From Russia with Doves: The Russian Ambassador Emphasizes Peace and Diplomacy at BYU

Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov greeted the faculty and students of BYU and addressed current issues in the relations between Russia and the U.S.   

PROVO, Utah (Oct. 24, 2018)—In the early hours of Wednesday morning, international affairs enthusiasts began filing into the BYU Kennedy Center to hear the ambassador from Russia, His Excellency Anatoly Antonov, deliver a speech on Russian and U.S. relations. The Kennedy Center was so full of eager faculty and students that people overflowed into the lobby and spare rooms to catch a glimpse of the ambassador via broadcast. Though these students were tightly packed into the building, their discomfort was also rewarded with a surprise visit from Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who came to hear what the ambassador had to say. Both Uchtdorf and Antonov took time to greet each student and shake hands after the lecture.   

As for the lecture itself, the ambassador first maintained that “Russia’s image is being distorted,” partly due to the wide array of media coverage on Russia. He argued that, though the media may portray the U.S. and Russia as enemies, these countries are and ought to remain friends. “From a historical standpoint,” he said, “our countries have never been enemies, have never waged wars against each other, and our fundamental interests have never clashed.” Antonov went on to cite a number of historical instances of close Russia–U.S. relations, such as the support from Empress Catherine the Great during the American Revolutionary War, the friendship between Emperor Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, and the alliance between the Soviet Union and America in World War II. “These few, yet remarkable, examples,” Antonov acknowledged, “show the great benefits we can provide for our countries and the entire world, when we join forces against global challenges.”  

Despite these historical ties, the ambassador expressed his concern that modern U.S.–Russia relations have deteriorated and face a state of crisis that harms both countries’ interests. He brought up the example of the recent U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, arguing that “the demolition of treaties has never contributed to improving international situations, nor has it ever strengthened peace and security.” Antonov insisted that, most importantly, clear and frequent communication must occur to improve diplomatic ties. “Restoring full-fledged dialogue will improve foreign affairs,” he said. Diplomacy and dialogue don’t merely exist in the political arena, Antonov emphasized, saying, “It’s important to support joint projects in those areas of our relations where we have less contradictions and more overlapping interests. It includes the arts, science, space, culture, education.” Examples of such cultural cooperation can be seen in the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and the recent FIFA World Cup in Russia, when 46,000 U.S. fans traveled to Russia and “saw for themselves the real Russia—an open, friendly, and modern country,” said Antonov. “This was a tribute to public diplomacy.”  

Such public diplomacy, as extolled by the ambassador, can happen in Utah as well, specifically on Brigham Young University’s campus. On his second day in Utah, Antonov met with Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, to discuss how Russia can develop a regional relationship with Utah, particularly concerning education. “I know there are a lot of institutes in Russia who would like to establish contact with [BYU] and other institutions on the soil of Utah,” Antonov said. He continued, “We must strengthen contacts between ordinary people, especially the young people, who are much less affected by the mentality of the past.” In anticipation of stronger relationships between Russian students and American students in Utah, Antonov expressed his hope that “maybe next time there will be more Russian-speaking students here, and maybe next time I can speak in Russian.”

View a recording of the ambassador’s full lecture here.

—Cristiana Farnsworth, European Studies and Russian, 2020