Every Russian National Should Be 'Extremely Careful' When Traveling to the U.S., Says Ambassador

Moscow's ambassador to Washington has said a "Russophobic atmosphere" in the U.S. means Russian citizens should be wary when visiting the country.

Anatoly Antonov's comments came on the weekend that the Russian Maria Butina, who was jailed in Florida for 18 months after infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA), had returned to Moscow.

Butina was convicted of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent, with the aim of establishing "unofficial lines of communication" between Moscow and U.S. political figures.

In an interview on the state-run Channel 1 about the state of relations between Moscow and Washington, Antonov used the case as an example of how Russians are treated in the U.S.

Russia Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov
Russia Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov speaks during a World Affairs event at in San Francisco, California in 2017. He has warned Russian citizens to be "extremely careful" in the U.S. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

"Of course, every Russian, and I have to say this, should be extremely careful on any trip to the U.S.," he told the program Bolshaya Igra from Washington, according to Tass.

"I agree with those American politicians who say that here in the USA we sometimes see witch hunts," the Russian ambassador said, noting that his embassy was focused on the "protection of 100 Russians in American prisons."

"For us, it makes no difference whatsoever what position this or that Russian citizen held or holds. For us, all of them are our fellow countrymen, and our task is to ensure their speedy release," he added.

He said that his embassy worked behind the scenes to secure the release of Butina and that "as soon as we saw that she was treated too harshly, we intensified our efforts."

"I believe that the case of Maria Butina, like many other cases of Russian compatriots, they are fabricated, they are invented. If Maria had not been a Russian woman, I think that such harsh measures would not have been taken against her," Antonov concluded, according to Interfax.

Last week, the Republican congressman Thomas Massie also criticized the "ridiculously long" sentence of Butina, which he put down to rampant Russophobia in the U.S. these days.

"We are better than this," he tweeted.

Antonov also used the program to reiterate the Kremlin's anger at the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and its immediate test of a weapon that had been banned under the 1987 nuclear arms treaty.

He then went on to quote former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's comment that "Putin's demonization is not a policy, but an alibi for the absence of one".

"It seems to me that Mr. Trump has fulfilled all his campaign promises, with one exception—to get along with Russia. And in my opinion, the time has come to deal closely with this issue," Antonov added, according to Interfax.