Who is Sergey Kislyak, and how did he become the hottest meeting ticket in Washington?

His diplomatic career has encompassed the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the inexorable-seeming rise of one Vladimir Putin. Now Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, finds himself in a harsh and unwanted spotlight over contacts with Donald Trump’s campaign team.

After nearly a decade as Moscow’s man in Washington, the portly, bespectacled envoy is a well-known commodity in diplomatic circles. Though said to prefer behind-the-scenes parley, he plays an occasional role as Russia’s public face at events such as policy forums and academic symposia across the United States.

Kislyak, 66, is also the Russian president’s eyes and ears — a role that likely took him last April to a front-row seat in a ballroom at Washington’s ornate Mayflower Hotel, where an upstart presidential aspirant named Donald Trump took to the lectern to deliver his first major foreign policy speech.

Trump’s speech gained him little traction with the invite-only crowd of foreign policy experts, some of whom made dismissive note of what they called a somewhat incoherent world view. In retrospect, the candidate’s address was perhaps most notable for what would become an increasingly prominent campaign theme in months to come: the need for better relations with Russia.

Kislyak is well acquainted with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has been derided as obsolete by Trump, serving as Russia’s envoy to the alliance between 1998 and 2003. After a stint back in Moscow, Kislyak took up ambassadorial duties in Washington in 2008, making him an unusually long-serving diplomat in the prestigious posting of the U.S. capital.   

In public, Kislyak’s remarks generally conform to a traditionally Kremlin view — that Russia seeks common ground with the West, but often faces provocation instead.   

 “You tried to contain Russia through pressure, economic sanctions, propaganda,” he said at last November’s forum at Stanford. “From the Russian point of view, it’s not something we initiated —we had to respond.”

Times staff writer King reported from Washington and special correspondent Mirovalev from Moscow. Staff writer Ann M. Simmons in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Twitter: @laurakingLAT