Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak has been a key figure in Russia-US relations for almost four decades — and now finds himself in the midst of a scandal that has ensnared US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Top Democrats have called for Sessions to resign while members of both parties have called for Sessions to recuse himself from future investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Kislyak twice during the 2016 election.
Kislyak, 66, has served as the country’s ambassador since 2008, during which time he oversaw the imposition of U.S. sanctions for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and claims that Russia had interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election.
“He represents the interests and positions of his government very well,” Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, told The Washington Post in 2014, shortly after the US imposed far-reaching sanctions on Russia.
Before moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as the country’s ambassador in 2008, Kislyak held numerous high-profile governmental roles representing the Soviet Union and later Russia in the US. From 1981 to 1988, he represented the Soviet Union in the United Nations in New York City.
Kislyak began his career at the Soviet Union’s top foreign affairs ministry after graduating from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in 1973 and the USSR Academy of Foreign Trade in 1977.
While not part of Putin’s innermost circle of officials, Kislyak spent all of his professional life working in diplomatic roles representing Russia in the US.
Kislyak is often thought by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in the US, former US government officials have told CNN.
McFaul suggested on Thursday that it is clear that Kislyak’s meeting with Session was related to Trump.
“Let’s not be naive folks. Kislyak obviously was meeting Sessions because of his role in Trump world,” tweeted McFaul. “That’s his job.”
Kislyak is a “very active ambassador,” McFaul told the Post in 2014, who “constantly” tries to meet with the US ambassador to Russia and US officials across many agencies.
Those who have worked with him have described Kislyak as quiet, “preferring one-on-one lunches and intimate dinner parties” over interviews, media appearances, and a public profile, according to The Washington Post.
Kislyak has called often for the formulation of a US-Russia relationship that moves past the Cold War.
“One of the biggest problems in our relations is that we sometimes look at each other through old stereotypes,” Kislyak once said at a council meeting in Northern California.
That said, he could also take a strong stance against Washington’s approach to Russia on occasion.
“We do not impose our vision of exceptionalism on others,” he once told to a group of American students visiting Russia. “But in the U.S. there is a tendency to believe that they have the right to lead others behind them.”
In 2015, Kislyak told the
Yale Daily News that he is an ethnic Ukrainian (both his parents were born in the country) even though, as a Russian citizen, he fully supports “the views of my people and of my country” on the issue of Crimea.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after revelations that he had lied over the content of his conversations with Kislyak prior to inauguration. Flynn said in February that he may have discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions with Kislyak before Trump was sworn in, which would have been a breach of protocol. Flynn had previously contended that US sanctions never came up during his conversations with Kislyak.
Despite widespread speculation, it is still unclear exactly what Kislyak discussed with Sessions.
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