SALT LAKE CITY — The relationship between the United States and Russia is headed in the wrong direction, Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday.
The former Utah governor said trust is the key — and needed more than ever — to repair the divide between the two superpowers, and that it starts with Russia.
"Trust, however, is something that must be earned by acting as a responsible neighbor and reliable partner," Huntsman wrote in a Moscow Times op-ed.
Huntsman said recent actions in the Black Sea, including its firing on and seizing Ukrainian vessels and arresting Ukrainian sailors, have "seriously eroded" the delicate trust established over the past year.
Russia’s use of a nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain also dealt a "serious blow" to trust between Washington and Moscow, and between Russia and the international community as a whole, he said.
"These irresponsible actions are unbefitting of a country with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council," Huntsman said.
In a short video posted on the U.S. Embassy Moscow twitter feed, Huntsman laments the loss of all American corners in libraries and locations around Russia as well as the closing of the consulate in St. Petersburg, leaving only two in the country.
"It is an example of a relationship that is moving in the wrong direction, not the right direction," he said.
Huntsman said as a diplomat, he likes getting out to meet people and hopes for more invitations to speak at universities, colleges and institutions "where I can find average Russians," he said.
"But right now we’re at a moment in time in our bilateral relationship when we need to build back up to what we used to have, and not collapse it backward into something that isn’t representative of my country, nor is it representative of yours."
The U.S. has done its part in good faith to renew dialogue and find a path forward despite differences, Huntsman said, citing the Helsinki meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of Congress sitting down with Russian lawmakers in Moscow. He also noted Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah lawmakers recently hosted his Russian counterpart, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov.
Huntsman's comments came as Putin held his annual news conference in Moscow, this year attracting 1,700 Russian and foreign journalists and lasting four hours.
Putin didn't address U.S-Russia relations directly, but said he wants to meet with Trump again. Trump canceled a planned meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Argentina last month, citing Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian navy ships.
“Will there be a meeting? I don’t know. I have said many times that I am ready to meet,” Putin said, saying the two need to discuss North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan and other issues.
The Russian president also expressed support for Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and agreed with him that ISIS had been defeated.
“On that, Donald is right, and I agree with him,” Putin said, calling Trump by his first name.26 comments on this story
In his op-ed, Huntsman said Russia has the opportunity to show that it is a responsible member of the international community to strengthen trust with the U.S. Efforts to improve relations will fall short if Russia doesn't keep its international agreements and respect the borders of its neighbors, he said.
"We cannot afford this, for the sake of our two countries and for global stability," Huntsman wrote.
He said trust must be earned through action and demonstrating responsibility.
"While 2018 went from diplomatic expulsions to some expanded dialogue in critical areas like counterterrorism, Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan, 2019 must see breakthroughs in actually solving these problems," he said. "Real results and therefore enhanced trust are impossible without it."