The Russian ambassador to the US has sensationally hinted at a split in the Kremlin hierarchy over Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Russian state TV, envoy Anatoly Antonov said America is secretly giving the Kremlin the terms of negotiations to halt the brutal fighting.
This comes amid a clear failure by the Russian army to make significant new progress in its push to invade areas of eastern Ukraine, after Moscow’s forces changed tactics to focus on the region following earlier failings around Kyiv.
Antonov, 67, implied that some inside the Kremlin’s power structures are ready to give up the fight, move back invading troops and even ‘repent’ – while stressing he was not among those willing to capitulate.
The senior diplomat – seen as a hardliner – said: ‘The Americans are pushing us into negotiations, but with certain conditions.
‘I would specify three of them,’ he said. ‘First, to stop military action as part of the special military operation. Second, to move our troops back to where they were before 24 February.’ The third, he said, is ‘to repent for everything we have done’.
Envoy Anatoly Antonov said America is secretly giving Vladimir Putin the terms of negotiations to halt the fighting, speaking on Russian state television
Antonov told Russian State TV anchor Vladimir Solovyov: ‘Naturally we are saying firm and clear, and we are unambiguously sure of this – at least the Russian diplomats that work here there will be no such capitulation. Never!
‘We are firmly convinced – and it would have been harder to work without this certainty – that all tasks set by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief will be fully completed. We will never surrender, and never go back.’
By saying ‘at least the Russian diplomats that work here’ he appeared to hint that others were less certain of his ‘no capitulation’ message.
The veteran ambassador failed to mention Putin by name, instead referring to him as the ‘Supreme Commander-in-Chief’.
In doing so, he makes clear that the military strategy – seen as flawed even in Russian security and military ranks – is coming from the very top of the Kremlin.
In other statements, Antonov has echoed other figures in the Russian elite that the east-west confrontation, with the West arming Ukraine, could trigger nuclear war.
He told Russian television: ‘The situation today is extremely, extremely dangerous.
‘The U.S. is being drawn deeper and deeper into conflict with the most unpredictable consequences for relations between the two nuclear powers.’
The Russian president placed Moscow’s nuclear forces on high alert shortly after his invasion of Ukraine began February 24, raising fears he could press the button as the war in Ukraine continues to go against him.
And amid increasing Western support to Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.
A Ukrainian soldier is seen with an anti-aircraft weapon in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 14
A couple brings their luggage out of their destroyed house in the village of Vilkhivka, near the eastern city of Kharkiv, on May 14, 2022
Pictured: Russian Incendiary munitions fall over the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, in a terrifying video posted to social media on Sunday showing the scale of the damage that has been done to the vast coastal complex
Meanwhile, Russia has increasingly resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling as the war in Ukraine has stumbled, with state media last week issuing near-daily threats – including one to wipe out the UK and Ireland with a ‘nuclear tidal wave‘.
Antonov also claimed Russian diplomats faced threats of physical violence and that US intelligence agencies were seeking to make private contact with his envoys.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, face-to-face meetings with U.S. officials have ended, he said.
‘It’s like a besieged fortress. Basically, our embassy is operating in a hostile environment … Embassy employees are receiving threats, including threats of physical violence.
‘Agents from U.S. security services are hanging around outside the Russian embassy, handing out CIA and FBI phone numbers, which can be called to establish contact.’
The CIA and the FBI declined comment, reported Reuters.
Antonov’s comments came as Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday with other Republican senators and met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks.
McConnell is pressing Republican Senator Rand Paul to end his opposition to a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, which has overwhelming support from both major parties – Republicans and Democrats.
Zelensky hailed what he said was a powerful signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine and the strength of relations between the two nations. The United States has given Ukraine billions of dollars worth of support and equipment to help defend itself.
‘We discussed many areas of support for our state, including in defence and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia,’ he said in a video address, adding he stressed the need for Russia to be designated a terrorist state.
McConnell was accompanied by fellow Senators Susan Collins, John Barrasso and John Cornyn.
Dozens of foreign politicians and celebrities have visited Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February to show their support. President Joe Biden’s wife, college professor Jill Biden, made an unannounced trip to Kyiv last Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, centre, poses for a photo with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., second left, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, second right, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday
Ukraine’s armed forces have launched a counter-offensive on the Russian-held city of Izyum in what could prove to be a major turning point in the battle for the country’s east (Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a damaged armoured vehicle between Kharkiv and Izyum)
Destroyed houses are pictured in Vilhivka village, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 11, 2022
Today, Ukraine’s forces were fighting off a fierce Russian onslaught on the east of the country, after a Eurovision victory gave the country a much-needed boost of morale.
President Volodymr Zelensky warned on Saturday that the war in his country risked triggering global food shortages, adding that the situation in Ukraine’s Donbas is ‘very difficult’.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, has increasingly turned its attention to the country’s east since the end of March, after failing to take the capital Kyiv.
Western analysts believe President Vladimir Putin has his sights on annexing southern and eastern Ukraine in the months ahead but his troops have appeared to be encountering stiff resistance.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly shifting the balance of power in Europe, with Finland and Sweden poised to jettison decades of military non-alignment to join NATO as a defence against feared further aggression from Moscow.
Helsinki is set to formally announce its bid for membership on Sunday.
But as a conflict that has displaced millions dragged towards its third month, Ukrainians were offered a much-needed boost of optimism as a rap lullaby combining folk and modern hip-hop rhythms won the Eurovision song contest.
‘Stefania’, which beat out a host of over-the-top acts at the quirky annual musical event, was written by frontman Oleh Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war – but its nostalgic lyrics have taken on outsized meaning because of the conflict.
‘Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,’ Psiuk said in English from the stage, referring to the port city’s underground steelworks where Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded by Russian forces.
There was also optimism from Kyiv’s head of military intelligence, who told the UK’s Sky News on Saturday that the war could reach a ‘breaking point’ by August and end in defeat for Russia before the end of the year.
Major General Kyrylo Budanov told the news network that he was ‘optimistic’ about the current trajectory of the conflict.