(CNSNews.com) – Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov late Wednesday condemned Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for saying that the U.S. should warn Russia it would shoot down its warplanes if they approach U.S. assets in international airspace.
“It is not the Russian pilots who should be called out, but American politicians who are inciting the start of an apocalyptic conflict,” Antonov said.
On Tuesday night, Graham told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the U.S. should issue a clear warning to Russia. He was speaking after a U.S. military drone was downed in the Black Sea following what the Pentagon says was a collision with a Russian fighter jet being flown in a “reckless and unprofessional” manner in international airspace.
“We should hold them accountable, and say that if you ever get near another U.S. asset flying in international waters, your airplane will be shot down,” Graham said. “What would Ronald Reagan do right now? He would start shooting Russian planes down if they were threatening our assets.”
Antonov was summoned to the State Department on Tuesday over the drone incident, and Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday discussed it in phone calls with their Russian counterparts.
“Clearly, we do not seek armed conflict with Russia,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon. “I believe that at this point we should investigate this incident and move on from there. But we will continue to exercise our rights in international airspace.”
Antonov’s response, posted on the embassy’s Facebook page late on Wednesday night, began with a reiteration of Moscow’s claim that its two Su-27 fighters involved in the incident “did not come into contact with the American UAV.”
Antonov also repeated Russia’s position that it had informed the international community that it was temporarily restricting airspace in the area, due to its “special military operation” – the invasion of Ukraine. (According to National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby, the U.S. has been flying in that airspace consistently since the war began.)
“Of course, it is a shame for the Pentagon to lose expensive piece of equipment,” he said. “But in this case, the U.S. military should redirect accusations of unprofessional actions back to themselves.”
Antonov then turned to Graham’s remarks.
“[T]his is by no means the first attempt by the notorious lawmaker to provoke a dangerous escalation in the U.S.-Russian relations,” he said. “A year ago he urged our citizens to make an assassination attempt on the president of Russia.”
“Does Senator Graham really believe that a direct military clash with Russia is in the interests of the voters who entrusted him with their lives and livelihood?” he asked. “A deliberate attack on a Russian aircraft in neutral airspace is not just a crime under international law, but an open declaration of war against the largest nuclear power.”
“An armed conflict between Russia and the United States would be radically different from the proxy war the Americans are waging remotely against us in Ukraine,” Antonov continued. “Is the Capitol willing to put American citizens and the international community at risk of a full-scale nuclear war? Give us an answer, distinguished Senator!”
Shortly after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Graham made waves when he made public comments interpreted as calling for the Russian president to be assassinated.
“The only way this ends, my friend, is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out,” he told Fox News in early March 2022. “You would be doing your country a great service and the world a great service.”
“How does this end? Somebody in Russia has to step up to the plate. Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” he asked, referring to the Roman politician who killed Julius Caesar in 44BC, and the German army officer who tried but failed to assassinate Hitler in 1944.
The White House at the time renounced the comments.
“That is not the position of the United States government and certainly not a statement you’d hear come from the mouth of anybody working in this administration,” said then-press secretary Jen Psaki.
Graham’s remarks also attracted a negative response from some Republican colleagues.
“This is an exceptionally bad idea,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Use massive economic sanctions; BOYCOTT Russian oil & gas; and provide military aid so the Ukrainians can defend themselves. But we should not be calling for the assassination of heads of state.”