Ending one the most turbulent tenures of a Washington-based ambassador in recent memory, the Kremlin has decided to recall Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, three individuals familiar with the decision told BuzzFeed News.
The decision to bring Kislyak back to Russia rather than appoint him to a senior position at the United Nations in New York, as several outlets previously reported, comes amid investigations by the FBI and Congress into the 66-year-old diplomat’s contacts with President Donald Trump’s top aides during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“He could use some time away,” said a US-based diplomat.
Though Kislyak’s departure has long been expected, Moscow would not confirm his departure date. The US–Russia Business Council, however, is hosting a going away party for the ambassador on July 11 at the St. Regis Hotel.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Monday said Kislyak, "who has worked in the US for 9 years, will go down in the history of bilateral relations as a man who made everything possible for their development, even in the most difficult moments."
As Kislyak’s associations came under intensifying scrutiny in recent weeks, an array of politicians in both parties tripped over themselves in trying to deny any past contacts with Kislyak, whose meetings with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn have become a central source of intrigue in the broader Russia probe. All three men failed to report their meetings or conversations with the Russian ambassador at various times. At one point, the intrigue spread beyond the Trump camp — in late April, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed she’d never met Kislyak shortly before photos surfaced of her meeting with him alongside other lawmakers in 2010.
A persistent question for investigators is a 20-minute meeting between Kislyak, Kushner, and Flynn in December. The Washington Post reported that after that meeting, US spies intercepted communication of Kislyak mentioning a request from Kushner to open a secret channel to the Kremlin that would avoid US monitoring. The ambassador was reportedly “taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate.” The White House denied the story.
Earlier this month, when a BuzzFeed News reporter asked Kislyak about Kushner’s request at an embassy party in Washington, the Russian ambassador declined to comment. “We have a policy," he said. "We do not comment on our daily contacts in America or anywhere else because we need to respect our interlocutors."
Kislyak was reportedly under consideration to lead a new UN counterterrorism office based in New York. However, that position has since been offered to veteran Russian diplomat Vladimir Voronkov, a UN official announced last week.
Despite the unwanted attention, Kislyak, a former nuclear physicist, has remained a prominent fixture in Washington’s diplomatic party circuit, openly smiling and socializing at receptions held by the Azerbaijan Embassy in June, the Palestinian Liberation Organization in May, and other foreign missions.
Some longtime Russia watchers said commentary surrounding the actions of the Russian ambassador, who by design is tasked with meeting anyone and everyone of influence in the nation’s capital, became overheated.
His "job is to make as many contacts as possible, as well as advocate for the policies of his government,” Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia under former president Barack Obama, told Newsweek. “On political involvement, I personally don’t think he crossed any lines.”
In Kislyak’s place, the Kremlin is expected to send Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov, according to Russian media reports. Antonov, a tough negotiator who is on the European Union’s sanctions list, will need final approval by Russia’s parliament.