6 May 2015

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft: I know Obama hopes for better relations with Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft has given an interview to Interfax foreign political desk chief Olga Golovanova ahead of the V-Day celebration due in Moscow on May 9 in which he praises joint effort in defeating fascism and says that U.S. President Barack Obama hopes for improving relations with Russia in the future.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, you will represent the United States at the anniversary V-Day parade in Moscow on May 9. No other officials will come fr om Washington to Russia. Can one say that the U.S. is boycotting the 70th V-Day anniversary in Moscow? It is no secret that U.S. representatives were talking heads of other states out of visiting Moscow on the day. Five years ago U.S. troops paraded on Red Square. U.S. war veterans come to Moscow annually. How many veterans will come to Russia this year to take part in the V-Day celebrations?

Answer: I am proud to represent the United States in Moscow during the 70th anniversary of Victory Day. As you know, this anniversary has personal significance for me. Both my father and my father-in-law were veterans of the war‘s European front. My dad served in the Air Force in North Africa and Italy. My wife Mariella‘s father served in France in the wake of the Allied ‘D-Day‘ invasion of Normandy. Every year - on what Americans call ‘V-E‘, Victory in Europe, Day, we honor the memory of our fathers and of all those who served so selflessly and sacrificed so much in the war.
In considering our representation, we took into account Russia‘s ongoing violations of Ukraine‘s sovereignty, as have several of our European Allies. There are a variety of ways the world will honor Victory in Europe Day, including on May 8 in Washington, wh ere there will be a flyover of many of the vintage WWII planes to mark the occasion. Some European capitals will also be marking Victory Day.
While President Obama is not able to attend this year‘s commemoration, I know that he hopes to see the relationship between our two great nations improve, after we resolve the source of recent tensions.

Q.: Do you believe that Russia is diminishing the role of the allies, in particular the U.S., during the WWII? According to your data, has Russia paid off its debt to the U.S. for lend lease shipments? If not, how large is the debt is now?

A.: Americans have deep respect for the tremendous sacrifices made by the Russian people and by others in the region during World War II. Having served as Ambassador in Russia and other former Soviet states, I am acutely aware of their heroism and sacrifice. And it has been very important to me to pay my respects by laying wreaths at memorials to the soldiers who perished in that terrible war throughout my diplomatic career and most recently in April and May this year.
Lend Lease played an important role in the war, and it itself is a reminder that that victory during World War II was a result of allied coordination in multiple areas throughout the war. Even though the political and economic systems of the United States and the Soviet Union were worlds apart during the Second World War, we were still able to cooperate in those years to achieve a greater good - the defeat of Nazi Germany. Today there are many global challenges that require the same type of coordinated action.

Q.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the U.S. has been showing interest through unofficial channels in cooperating on security with Russia. Does this mean the resumption of activity of relevant sub-groups in the presidential commission? Might this involve the special services? Can this be done in the context of fighting against the Islamic State? Will the U.S. side make formal proposals in this respect?

A.: The United States and Russia do continue to cooperate on official levels in many areas, especially in the field of countering violent extremism. For example, the United States remains committed to addressing global nuclear security issues and to working with Russia on this mutual challenge. Space cooperation has been a hallmark of U.S.-Russia relations since 1971. Recently, two Russians and one American arrived at the International Space Station. Working together, we removed chemical weapons from Syria and we participated together in negotiations to contain Iran‘s nuclear program. Let‘s remember that our goal is not to isolate Russia - our goal, as President Obama said, is "a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy, that is thriving on behalf of its people, that can once again engage with us in cooperative efforts around global challenges. But we‘re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles."

Q.: Will the U.S. join the Normandy format discussions on Ukraine if invited?

A.: I cannot speculate on what President Obama would decide if invited to participate in the Normandy format discussions. We have remained actively engaged in the diplomacy around trying to bring an end to this conflict even outside of this format. As you know, Secretary Kerry speaks often with Foreign Minister Lavrov and his European counterparts. President Obama and President Putin also have spoken about Ukraine, and American and European diplomats at all levels continue to look for ways to encourage Russia to comply with its Minsk commitments. But these agreements should be implemented fully. None of the parties that made these commitments should pick and choose which portions of Minsk they wish to uphold. There can only be a diplomatic solution to this issue, and we continue to seek it.