In a rare public appearance since he took up the post in 2017, Mr Antonov outlined Russian concerns over several US withdrawals from arms treaties, and called for greater recognition of the risks of arms proliferation.
Speaking at the Stimson Centre in Washington DC on Monday, Mr Antonov’s opening remarks took into account “the bad shape of Russian-American relations”, underlined by the fact his address came on the same day Vladimir Putin followed the US by suspending participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
“The situation with strategic stability as well as with arms control is very bad. We are in crisis,” Mr Antonov said.
“Since the Second World War, we have been living until today without any war, whether you like it or not, only because of MAD – mutually assured destruction. It was the basis for peace between the US and Russia. It was clear that if you attacked the Soviet Union or Russian Federation, you will get an answer. With such an understanding, nobody tried to be a winner.
“Today I am scared that some politicians and generals in Washington and maybe in other capitals, they have started thinking about the possibility of being a winner in nuclear war.”
He added: “I would like to use this opportunity to send a message that it is impossible to win a nuclear war.”
The collapse of the 1987 INF treaty has stoked fears of a Cold War-style European missile crisis.
Russia has claimed the US has breached the treaty by deploying missile defence facilities in eastern Europe that could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors. This claim has been rejected by Washington.
“This is a very burning issue,” Mr Antonov said. “We can return to the situation before 1987 before we signed the treaty … We will be forced to deploy our missiles and here you will see the whole territory of European countries will be covered.”
He also pointed out the US had pulled out of other treaties designed to limit use of certain weapons.
“I would like to remind you that in 2002 [under George W Bush] the US decided to withdraw from ABM [the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty]. It was one of the crucial treaties between the US and the Soviet Union,” he said.
He also called on the Trump administration to reconsider its stance on the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “I was very upset when the US decided to withdraw from JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].”
He said Russia “understands the US concerns regarding human rights, regarding malign activities of Iran in the Middle East, the ballistic missile programmes of Iran, plus the nuclear programme”.
But he added: “The nuclear programme was discussed for many years and this [JCPOA] was a very difficult, very sensitive compromise between six countries.
“It seems to me we have to do our best to keep this deal alive. It would be wise if the US could revisit its decision.”
Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov speaks about the US-Russian relationship at the Stimson Centre, Washington DC (Getty)
But Mr Antonov also applauded the Trump administration’s efforts to pursue North Korean nuclear weapons.
He said: “Nuclear disarmament is not an easy project. It seems to me it is impossible to achieve a tangible result within one month or a year.
“You may know from history how many years we spent to arm … We had to spend more time and more money to dismantle an excessive quantity of our missiles and warheads. I understand why it will be difficult for the US to get a significant result. A positive result is not only in the interest of the US, it is in the interest of the entire world, including of course to the Russian Federation. That’s why we are welcoming all positive efforts by this administration.
“Maybe Washington wanted to get more. We also want to see peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula, but it’s not so easy ... We would like to see North Korea as a non-nuclear state.”
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