Hotels & Travel Special Section Inside Hotels & Travel A Special Section of The Washington Diplomat
VOLUME 24, NUMBER 7
WWW.WASHDIPLOMAT.COM New Kids on Block
From Micro Rooms to Trump’s
Huge Mark, D.C.’s Hotel
otel options are not in short supply in the nation’s capital. Whether travelers want ognizable chain, an independent a recstandalone boutique or something steeped in history (we’re looking at you, Watergate, Willard and Washington Hilton), there’s really something for everyone. But D.C. tourism is evolving and so is the hospitality landscape here.
Russia’s Unassuming Envoy Finds Himself At Center of U.S. Storm
Scene Continues to Evolvet
BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ
So far in 2017 alone, four hotels in four different neighborhoods, have debuted beyond. with more to Other come. For instance, there’s the Pod DC in Penn waves prominent newcomers that have made Quarter, the District’s in the region include Trump second micro-hotel, International, which plays its own which has tiny rooms but interesting role here big plans, predecessor, the sleekly compact as well as its for obvious reasons, and the gigantic MGM NaHotel Hive in tional Foggy Bottom. There’s also The Darcy, based on makingHarbor just across the Potomac, which is a fictional character but its mark not only as a casino, with but as a mentary daily gin tastings, very real compli- popular concert venue, too. and The Line, which Here’s a look at each of these is joining the marketplace new properties, later with a radio station broadcasting this summer what they have to offer, how they differ and how from its lob- they hope by. In fact, according to to stand out in an already Destination DC, there crowded market. are 16 hotels in the pipeline, with 3,703 rooms opening in the rest of 2017 through 2020 and 22
Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak has been a fiercely unapologetic, if affable, voice for the Kremlin’s policies in the U.S. since 2008, but the low-key diplomat now finds himself thrust into the center of one of the worst political scandals to hit D.C. since Watergate. / PAGE 8
Trump Delegates More Authority To Pentagon President Trump holds his generals in high esteem and has shown it by giving the Defense Department wide latitude over decision making, which has far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign policy in places ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen. / PAGE 10
Donald Trump has vacillated between calling Pakistan a nation of “betrayal and disrespect” to a “fantastic place of fantastic people.”The president’s malleable foreign policy views aside, Islamabad’s envoy to the U.S., Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, is steadfast in his belief that despite their many differences, Pakistan and the U.S. can maintain their “exceptional relationship” and even bring stability to the conflict-prone region. / PAGE 13
Germany’s Lüpertz Arrives in America Prolific German artist Markus Lüpertz comes to America with a bang in two groundbreaking shows at the Hirshhorn and Phillips Collection. / PAGE 28
People of World Influence
Professor Says Allies Losing Faith in U.S.
Georgian Wife Offers Dose of Knowledge
Professor Monica Duffy Toft, director of the newly established Center for Strategic Studies at Tufts University, says Donald Trump’s many foreign policy flip-flops and his “America first” agenda have left allies from Europe to Asia wondering where they fit into the president’s hierarchy of priorities. / PAGE 6
Anna Matsukashvili trained as a dentist but switched gears to work with the U.N., pharmaceutical companies and medical foundations. Now in D.C. with her husband, Ambassador David Bakradze, she hopes to give Americans a dose of the “other” Georgia. / PAGE 29
GOURMET GALA THANK YOU FOR HELPING TO RAISE OVER $1.1 MILLION TO SUPPORT HEALTHY BABIES!
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Contributing Writers Photo by Terry Brennan, The Umbrella Syndicate
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ON THE COVER Photo taken at the Embassy of Pakistan by Lawrence Ruggeri of RuggeriPhoto.com.
THE WASHINGTON DIPLOMAT | July 2017
Lahore Fort in Pakistan
A new report finds that nearly 10 million U.S. adults suffer from mental illness.
The new ARTECHOUSE space seamlessly marries art and technology.
TRAVEL & HOTELS
“Inspiring Beauty” shows how Ebony Fashion Fairs broke the color barrier.
People of World Influence A professor wonders whether America’s allies should trust Trump.
Reluctant Man of the Hour Russia’s ambassador finds himself at the center of the worst political scandal since Watergate.
New Kids on the Block From The Darcy to The Line, new hotels are springing up left and right in the nation’s capital.
The Pentagon’s Power President Trump has given the Defense Department wide-ranging new powers.
All Roads Lead to Beijing China wants to connect the region with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
Cover Profile: PAKISTAN Pakistan’s envoy feels Washington and Islamabad can continue their “exceptional relationship.”
‘XYZT’ and Beyond
Clothes as Agents of Change
Embracing the ‘Other’ The Contemporary American Theater Festival ponders how to “make America think again.”
Lüpertz Arrives in America German artist Markus Lüpertz makes a subdued splash in two groundbreaking shows.
Canadian Backdrop “Punctured Landscape” surveys the highs and lows of Canada’s 150-year confederacy.
Diplomatic Spouses Georgia’s Anna Matsukashvili puts her medical career on hold to focus on diplomacy.
New restaurants are rejuvenating the oncederelict Ivy City neighborhood.
Voice for the Vulnerable Refugees International’s new president hopes to put humanitarianism back on the world’s radar.
Global Vantage Point “Hooper’s War” examines the moral injury of war and its enduring scars.
38 Events Listing
40 Diplomatic Spotlight 46 Classifieds 47 Real Estate Classifieds THE WASHINGTON DIPLOMAT | JuLY 2017 | 3
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WD | People of World Influence
Alienated Allies Professor Wonders Whether Allies Should Continue to Trust U.S. Under Trump by Whitney McKnight and Anna Gawel
or America’s allies, the now constant barrage of bafflement by President Trump began on day one when, in his inauguration speech, he declared twice — without qualification — that from that day forward it would be “America first.” Notwithstanding whether it was a direct reference to the rhetoric of the 1940s America First Committee, which advocated for the U.S. to stand down from entering World War II, or, as the president said to The New York Times, it simply expresses his personal sentiments that the U.S. must focus its energies on rebuilding the home front, the isolationist tone is in stark contrast to the last 70 years of America’s leading role in alliance-building. “Allies are now unsure of where and to what the U.S. is committed and which allies it might defend. Even within the administration itself there is uncertainty, so it’s not only a matter of whether to take the U.S. seriously, but even more basically how to assess U.S. commitments altogether,” professor Monica Duffy Toft, director of the newly established Center for Strategic Studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told The Washington Diplomat. Toft, a Fulbright scholar, has taught at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she directed the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs. We spoke with Toft, an author who also spent four years in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist, for an international perspective on the reasons for the growing erraticism in U.S. foreign affairs, where it might lead and whether the Constitution ultimately will protect the country from stumbling into chaos. The growing divide between the U.S. and its allies was laid bare in May during a high-profile trip that Trump made to Brussels, where he berated NATO allies for not paying their “fair share” and refused to commit to Article 5, whereby an attack on one member is an attack on all. The public snub came despite months of reassurance by his surrogates that America remained committed to the mutual defense pledge. Shortly afterward, Trump formally withdrew from the Paris climate accord, disappointing leaders in Europe and beyond. The transatlantic rift widened when the normally constrained German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that Europe can’t rely on “others” for its security and prosperity. But perhaps the most compelling metaphor for Trump’s “America first” paradigm was his shoulder snatch and shove of Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković — the leader of NATO’s newest member — during the Brussels summit. Marković dismissed the incident, which went viral on internet memes, although Toft counts it among the many missteps
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the president has made in assuaging our allies’ fears that he is for and not against them. “The Trump administration has changed U.S. standing in the world, there is no doubt about that,” said Toft, a recent World Politics Fellow at Princeton University whose books include “Securing the Peace,” “Political Demography” and “God’s Century.” Toft counts it among the many “diplomatic blunders, slights and policy aboutfaces that have not only taken aback allies, but those within the administration who are trying to maintain, much less advance, vital U.S. interests.” The White House says the president has kept his campaign pledge to put America first through a series of actions that includes: withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, vowing to renegotiate other trade deals such as NAFTA, ditching the Paris climate agreement, cracking down on immigration and signaling to allies that they must share the financial burden for their defense. In general, however, Trump’s America first agenda has yet to be fleshed out or result in any concrete legislative victories. Instead, the White House has been consumed by the ongoing investigations into the Trump team’s ties with Russia and has struggled to fill key positions. It has also struggled to keep up with a president who
Monica Duffy Toft Photo: Tufts University
The Trump administration has changed U.S. standing in the world, there is no doubt about that. Monica Duffy Toft
director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
relishes unpredictability and disdains detail. To his supporters, however, Trump is pursuing a long-overdue rethink of America’s place in the world and upending conventional Beltway wisdom. To his detractors, he is pushing incoherent polices marred by improvisation and inexperience. That wide spectrum of opinion can be seen both at home and around the world. For example, Trump’s tough talk on the Islamic State, Iran and military might has pleased nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Russia, where leaders often criticized President Obama as weak and indecisive. But Trump’s foreign policy flip-flops and vague pronouncements have angered, alienated or bewildered allies such as Canada, France, South Korea and Qatar. The latter was confused by conflicting signals from Washington amid a recent row with its Gulf neighbors. After Saudi Arabia, the UAE and sev-
eral other nations severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar, home to an important American military base, U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis urged calm and mediation. Their pleas were quickly undercut by their boss, who took credit for the Saudi-led move and labeled Qatar a “funder of terror.” Toft cited other instances where the president has driven a wedge with critical allies. In addition to his running tirade against Mexico, a key trading partner, Toft referred to how Trump insulted Australia’s prime minister for his nation’s policies on refugees and for “scaring Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about U.S. commitments in Asia, to the point that Abe felt compelled to visit Trump.” Another blow to foreign relations has been the president’s attempts to push through a controversial travel ban on six Muslim-majority nations, an order that remains mired in legal challenges and that
Toft said belies either a willful ignorance or a disregard for the limits of executive power. “I think it’s a combination of ignorance and that he doesn’t care. What is unnerving is that now that he is in office and he is getting so much pushback, he doesn’t seem to care about redressing that ignorance,” Toft charged. Trump’s general lack of understanding about foreign policy, his widely reported short attention span and off-the-cuff style have also disconcerted allies. For instance, he has repeatedly insisted that NATO members owe the U.S. money, even though the concept of “back payments” doesn’t exist in the alliance. His argument that he was pulling out of the Paris accord to “renegotiate” its terms made little sense to experts because countries can adjust their climate commitments by remaining inside the agreement — not to mention that no one is about to return to the drawing board on a deal signed by nearly 200 governments. Whether on North Korea or Turkey, Trump often says one thing while his aides say another, leaving diplomats in Washington with the Sisyphean task of deciphering the ambiguous and contradictory statements coming out of the White House. Trusting Trump with sensitive information has also become problematic for allies. In May, shortly after the furor over Trump firing FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating the administration’s links to Russia, the president ap-
peared to leak classified intelligence to top Russian officials when he boasted about the details of an alleged Islamic State plot, reportedly infuriating the source of that information, Israel. Likewise, after the Manchester terrorist bombing, British officials warned that they would stop sharing intelligence with the U.S. if the administration could not put a lid on leaks to the media about the attack. More recently, following a terrorist rampage in London that killed eight people, Trump criticized the city’s mayor for saying that there was “no reason to be alarmed.” But the president distorted those remarks (the mayor was referring to the increased police presence, not the attack). Trump’s false tweets about Mayor Sadiq Khan drew fierce condemnation throughout Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May, an early Trump supporter, lost a commanding lead ahead of snap parliamentary elections in June, leaving her political prospects in jeopardy. If Trump’s inner circle is attempting to correct his misperceptions about the complexities of world affairs, it is not apparent, Toft said. “They seem more concerned about controlling the message than taking him aside and saying you need some tutoring here.” Allies initially appeared hopeful that experienced hands such as Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster would temper the president’s impulses. But with every incendiary tweet, their influence seems to be waning. Meanwhile, Toft suggested the diplomatic community is keen to figure out who is actually charge in the White House, and how the competing agendas of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and senior advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner are driving the president’s foreign policy agenda. (Some diplomats have been reportedly trying to cultivate ties with Kushner, who’s been tasked with everything from Middle East peace to streamlining the government; some have also reportedly tried to work with his wife Ivanka instead of Tillerson and a diminished State Department.) From Toft’s perspective, Priebus is the voice of mainstream conservative thought, Bannon is the voice of those who desire to deconstruct an establishment that they say doesn’t speak for them, and Kushner is simply protecting his father-in-law and the family fortune. Just who has the most power, and when and how that shifts, is unknown. “I think there are dueling conceptions of where the U.S. needs to be. It could be why it’s so chaotic,” Toft speculated. “That’s why I think this is such a mess, and why we’re having a hard time see-
Credit: Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
President Trump hosts a June 1 press conference on the Rose Garden, where he explicitly endorsed America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter after refusing to do so at a Brussels summit the previous month.
ing who is really in charge. Supposedly, during the NATO summit, Trump was to have said we are committed to Article 5. It was in his speech, and then Trump himself changed it. Did he do that on his own? We don’t know. We may never know,” she said. (Two weeks later, Trump affirmed America’s commitment to Article 5 during a press conference.) The lasting effects of Trump’s policies depend largely on Congress, said Toft. She pointed to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) among those who have “tried to counter some of President Trump’s most egregious policies, but with seemingly little impact. The GOP seems more concerned about advancing its domestic policy agenda [such as] repealing and replacing Obamacare [and] tax ‘reform’ than in ensuring that the U.S. government under a Trump administration follows a sound foreign policy.” She added that although McCain has been vocal in his criticism of the administration’s foreign policy, “he hasn’t created a cohort of people to have a stronger voice in all of this.” The potential legacy of this looms as a dark unknown, according to Toft. “It’s too soon to tell, but keep in mind that the impact of Trump’s decisions and policy choices, both domestic and foreign, have considerable inertia. Both the good and bad effects will continue to ripple outward, even if the subsequent chief executive
or Congress attempts a rollback.” When asked by The Washington Diplomat in an interview what message McCain would give our allies, particularly since the Trump administration has proposed a nearly 30 percent cut to the State Department’s budget, the senator laughed and said, “There isn’t going to be cuts to the State Department.” Meanwhile, Toft said the current investigations into the administration’s ties to Russia could help restore faith in America as a trusted ally and friend. “If such ties are exposed, expect the Republicans to act and to act decisively, as they are historically more hawkish toward Russia — and especially Russia under President Vladimir Putin. This would reinvigorate NATO’s strategic importance and compel the U.S. to reevaluate which states truly share its traditional values and interests,” Toft said. “The Senate appears to be ready to take on the president, and the diplomatic community is one among many hopeful that this will slow the destruction of the U.S. position as a global supporter of peace and free trade.” “I think our allies are going to wait and see what happens. I am sure they watch with interest,” McCain told us of the Russia investigations, which he described as a “centipede with 100 shoes yet to drop.” In the meantime, Trump faces the challenge of getting actual work done despite the cloud of suspicion hanging over him. Toft says there are some foreign policy achievements he could rack up, but she isn’t overly hopeful. “There’s an old saying that even a busted clock is right twice a day. So we should not forget that a Trump administration is likely to have a few great ideas and advance at least a few innovative policies,” Toft said. But she added that, “Trump himself has made it clear his rationale for hiring surrogates is personal loyalty to him, not professional competence. So even if renegotiating NAFTA, the Paris accords and the NATO Charter or putting North Korea on notice might be of benefit to the U.S., it has become increasingly doubtful that a Trump administration has sufficient experience or connections to implement any positive initiatives.” German Chancellor Merkel and other allies have voiced fears that for now at least, the U.S. cannot be counted on the way it once was. Toft said that the degree to which such doubts persist depends on how well we are able to defend what makes us unique in the world. See T oft, page 20
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WD | Eurasia
Russia’s Reluctant Star Ambassador Sergey Kislyak Thrust into Worst Political Scandal Since Watergate by Larry Luxner
hree and a half years ago, as Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi was getting ready to open the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sergey Kislyak happily agreed to an interview. For an entire hour, Moscow’s man in Washington regaled us with his thoughts about bilateral relations, Hillary Clinton’s famous “reset” button, the ongoing war in Syria, Russia’s struggle against terrorism as well as its decision to offer NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum, and, of course, the upcoming Olympics (see “Russia Puts Its Olympic Dreams, Reputation on the Line at Sochi” in the February 2014 issue of The Washington Diplomat). “I arrived here in early September 2008. It was a very difficult period, the lowest point in our relations since the end of the Cold War,” he explained over tea and chocolates at his official residence on 16th Street, NW. “It was the time of the Georgian invasion and we had big differences with the United States. It wasn’t easy. I remember I started my first working day after presenting my credentials at the White House by making two speeches, explaining the Russian position [on Georgia].” Things started improving after the elections, when President Obama proposed the “reset” — a policy Kislyak said his government took very seriously. “Russian-American relations are important under all circumstances. Is everything so rosy and positive? Of course not, but our relations have never been simple. They have always been complex, and we certainly have irritants in our relationship,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, relations are much more productive than we are given credit for.” Kislyak added: “As is the goal of any ambassador, my job is to build productive ties and overcome the stereotypes that are still haunting us. Our differences will always remain, but we must also be mindful of things we can do together, to have more interactions between people, especially among the younger generation. They need to understand what Russia is, and what it is not.” But all that was before Kislyak become a household name — and the well-connected, low-key envoy found himself thrust into the center of what is rapidly becoming Washington’s worst political scandal since Watergate. Now, as special counsel Robert Mueller and his legal team investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to discredit Hillary Clinton and the Trump administration’s contacts with Kislyak and other Russian officials, the Kremlin’s envoy here has suddenly clammed up. Two top Trump confidants had conversations with Kislyak that were inter-
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cepted by U.S. intelligence officials, but were less than straightforward about those contacts: Michael Flynn, who lasted only 24 days as Trump’s national security adviser before being forced to resign after having misled Vice President Mike Pence about his phone calls with Kislyak, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who conceded that he had had two previously undisclosed conversations with the ambassador and has since recused himself from supervising the investigation, reportedly infuriating Trump. Also under scrutiny: Kislyak’s early December 2016 encounters at Trump Tower with New York businessman Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law and now a top White House advisor. The scandal grew more intense when The Washington Post, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, revealed on May 26 that Kislyak and Kushner discussed the possibility of setting up a secret, secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, “using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their preinauguration discussions from monitoring.” “Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the
Photo: Lawrence Ruggeri
Kislyak is a very experienced, welltrained, very adept Russian diplomat, but was relatively low-profile until this scandal broke…. I wasn’t impressed by his style, but I was impressed by his effectiveness. Donald Jensen senior adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis
Trump team,” wrote Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s repeated pronouncements on the campaign trail that the U.S. could work with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State, the cloud of suspicion over his administration and steady drip of leaks have dampened any prospects for a rapprochement with Russia. In mid-June, Bloomberg reported that “Russian hackers hit election systems in at least 39 states before Donald Trump’s election as president … an attack on almost twice as many states as previously reported.” And last month, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to slap additional sanctions on Russia in a bid to limit Trump’s maneuvering room to improve relations with Moscow.
At the same time, The Post reported that Mueller’s probe has expanded to include possible obstruction of justice charges against the president for, among other things, allegedly pushing FBI Director James Comey — whom Trump fired — to drop the investigation into his embattled national security advisor. Trump sparked an uproar by sacking Comey, but he raised even more eyebrows when, the very next day, he hosted Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House for a jovial get-together that was captured by a Russian photographer — while American media were barred from the meeting. The optics of the encounter were strange enough, but then The Post reported that Trump spilled
Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak poses for the February 2014 cover of The Washington Diplomat ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
highly classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak about a possible Islamic State plot — intelligence purportedly received from Israel. Caught in the middle of this furor is Kislyak, an otherwise unassuming but seasoned diplomat whose expertise includes arms control and forcibly defending the Kremlin line while winning the grudging respect of his adversaries, according to multiple reports. “He has interacted with American officials for decades and been a fixture on the Washington scene for the past nine years, jowly and cordial with an easy smile and fluent if accented English, yet a pugnacity in advocating Russia’s assertive policies,” wrote Neil MacFarquhar and Peter Baker in a March 2 New York Times article. “Invited to think tanks to discuss arms control, he would invariably offer an unapologetic defense of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and assail Americans for what he portrayed as their hypocrisy — then afterward approach a debating partner to suggest dinner.” We couldn’t reach Kislyak to comment for this article, though Donald
Jensen, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Moscow in the 1990s, compared the 66-yearold Kislyak to Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s longtime permanent representative to the United Nations, who died in February. “Both were highly professional in advocating the Kremlin’s policies,” Jensen told us. “Kislyak is a very experienced, well-trained, very adept Russian diplomat, but was relatively low-profile until this scandal broke. He throws a lot of money around Washington, and I’ve seen him in action. I wasn’t impressed by his style, but I was impressed by his effectiveness.” Jensen called him “a very good mouthpiece for the Russian point of view, even though he’s not ethnically Russian,” but rather Ukrainian. “In the early ’90s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, many Ukrainian diplomats went with the new Ukrainian government. Kislyak stayed loyal to Moscow — and many Ukrainians have criticized him for staying in the Russian Foreign Service.” As much as Jensen disagrees with the official Moscow line, he acknowledged that it’s “perfectly understandable” that many top people in Washington have met Kislyak. “The Russian Embassy here keeps tabs on officials and think tank discussions, and Russia has an active soft power outreach program in the U.S. and Europe,” he told us. “Kislyak is just a very well-oiled, well-funded diplomatic machine. I find nothing unusual about an ambassador trying to schmooze and glad-hand people all over town. Many ambassadors do that, even if he advocates, as with Kislyak, policies that are hostile to the interests of the United States.” Kislyak himself has said it is perfectly “normal diplomatic work” for ambassadors in Washington to cultivate ties with both Republicans and Democrats. A graduate of Moscow’s Engineering Physics Institute, Kislyak was posted to the U.N. in New York at the height of Cold War tensions and later came to D.C. in the mid-1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to open up the communist government. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kislyak went on to serve as ambassador to NATO and deputy foreign affairs minister before coming to Washington in 2008. In July, Kislyak is set to be replaced as ambassador to the U.S. by Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s current deputy minister of foreign affairs. Rumors have circulated that Kislyak may be in line for a newly created senior position at the U.N. focusing on counterterrorism, a job that Russia, as one of the five permanent Security Council members, wants to fill with one of its own. (Reports have speculated that he may also replace Churkin as Russia’s ambassador to the U.N.) Yet in addition to the lengthy diplomatic credentials on his resume, some media outlets have suggested that Kislyak doubles as an intelligence agent. John Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, doesn’t buy into the spy speculation. “He’s a career Russian diplomat whose expertise is on arms control, and who worked his way up through the ranks and was the Russian ambassador to NATO before coming to Washington,” said Herbst. “There’s no reason to assume he’s a spy, although it’s true that ambassadors do have some relationship with the [intelligence] chief of station at their embassies.” Herbst, who was a U.S. ambassador to two former Soviet republics, Uzbekistan (from 2000 to 2003) and Ukraine (2003 to 2006), isn’t alone in that assessment. “A lot of people think he’s a spook, or that he’s running agents in America,” said a Western diplomatic source who asked not to be named. “Despite the fact that a large proportion of Russian diplomats in the U.S. may work for the intelligence service, it’s my understanding that Kislyak does not. I don’t think he’s a spy, even though it’s sexier to say that he is.” Herbst, whose Atlantic Council hosted
PhoTo: STATe dePArTMenT
russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, left, greets then-Secretary of State John Kerry at a conference on the Arctic held in Alaska on Aug. 31, 2015. A skilled, behind-the-scenes diplomat, Kislyak has found himself thrust into the center of the spotlight because of the investigations into President Trump’s ties to russia.
Kislyak once for a lunch roundtable, did call him “a very smart and cautious guy who pays close attention to the policies of his government” as ties between Moscow and Washington have worsened in recent years. “Whatever his Ukrainian blood lines, he clearly made a choice to be a part of the Russian Foreign Service after the Soviet Union fell apart, so that suggests a certain loyalty to Moscow,” said Herbst, who met Kislyak back in the mid-1990s when Herbst was a senior deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the Commonwealth of Independent States and Kislyak was an upper mid-level diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry. Yet Herbst doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to who Kislyak speaks for. “I believe that Russia is committing aggression in Ukraine,” he said. “They stole Crimea by force and they’re trying to subvert the country. Kislyak has to represent Russian interests, so he serves as an instrument of Russian policy and explains it away. That’s the purpose of diplomats. But these policies are dreadful and should be resisted.” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Dinu Patriciu Center, went further, calling Kislyak a “mouthpiece for the Kremlin.” “For example, he meticulously articulated the party line on Ukraine on numerous occasions. In the larger scheme of things, the personalities of ambassadors reflect the personalities and policies of their masters,” said Cohen, adding that “he may have been appraised about the Russian hacking of the U.S. election campaigns, but I doubt this was a policy that originated with him.” Even so, Cohen says Kislyak’s contacts with the Trump campaign, starting with his appearance at the candidate’s April 2016 foreign policy speech, “could be seen as rather benign, as Russia was seeking to get rid of the sanctions and the Trump campaign policy toward Russia talked about a massive improvement in the relationship.” Professionally, Kislyak has been an unyielding advocate for Kremlin policy, but the affable diplomat has also tried to connect with Americans on a personal level. In 2010, he opened the Russian Embassy compound for a lavish, fantastical ball to benefit the Washington National Opera, attracting a slew of VIPs, including CEOs, senators and Supreme Court justices. The embassy regularly hosts cultural events such as jazz concerts, and Kislyak often traversed the U.S. to talk to students, business leaders and others about bilateral relations. He would also invite Americans to weekend events at Russia’s sprawling estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — which was shuttered by the Obama administration when the charges of
election hacking surfaced. While he has kept a low profile since the election imbroglio erupted, Kislyak still occasionally makes his presence known around town. In May, he co-hosted the first-ever #DiploChess Tournament alongside the Norwegian ambassador, welcoming chess players to compete at the Russian Embassy. And on June 12, Kislyak hosted Washington insiders and diplomats celebrating Russia Day at the embassy. “Attendees were encouraged to pose for photos with signs that said ‘I love Russia’ and post them on Facebook, Instagram and other social networks,” Politico reported. “The
frayed U.S.-Russia relationship was clearly on the embassy’s mind as they handed out a pamphlet highlighting the two countries’ close relationship.” Yet that close relationship is anything but at the moment. While Kislyak has stressed that the two former Cold War adversaries can work together on areas of mutual interest, such as tackling terrorism — echoing Trump’s position — the litany of issues that divides Moscow and Russia — from Syria to NATO to Ukraine to gay rights — remains long and seemingly insurmountable. What happens next in the troubled bilateral relationship is anyone’s guess, though Garrett M. Graff, in a lengthy article for Esquire titled “The Inconvenient Comrade,” suggested that Kislyak has long coveted the post of Russian ambassador in Paris, but might be “too comprised now for such a plum job.” “Wherever he ends up, the larger open question is how much blame he will face, here or back home, for the election-interference campaign,” Graff wrote. “The final twist is that Russia might now find itself in a more isolated, antagonistic position than it would have if Clinton had won. At the very least, it’s hard to imagine a member of Congress — or even a semi-ambitious Washington player — risking a meeting with Russia’s top diplomat. And the cloud of suspicion over Trump may compel him to prove himself less friendly to Russia than he anticipated last year.” The immediate future may not bode well for Trump either. The Atlantic Council’s Cohen warns that Antonov — a hardline negotiator who is the departing ambassador’s replacement in Washington — “may be tougher and even more anti-American than Kislyak.” WD Larry Luxner is the Tel Aviv-based news editor of The Washington Diplomat.
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