“The worse relations are, the more I get invited to speak,” Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told a packed room of nearly 100 people in Horchow Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Students, fellows and other members of the Yale community gathered for a conversation with Kislyak to discuss the relationship between the United States and Russia. The discussion marked the inaugural event of the Russian Studies Program’s “Contemporary Thinkers: Focus Russia” series, which will include films and speakers before concluding with a conference in April. While Kislyak praised the benefits of a diplomatic partnership between the United States and Russia, he also articulated factors that have put stress on the relationship, mentioning recent disagreements over Ukraine, Edward Snowden and the Sochi Olympics.

“Challenges of the United States and Russia are very similar,” he said. “We all need to work on them together to get them solved.”

When the two nations work together, Kislyak said, both agendas are advanced. Together, they have been productive on issues of international terrorism, international crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and space programs, he said. Kislyak highlighted the collaboration to remove Syria’s chemical weapons as an example of what can be done when the countries work together.

Specifically, Kislyak claimed that events in Ukraine “brought all the difficulties that [the United States and Russia] had to maximum temperature.” According to Kislyak, the crisis began when “an armed anti-constitutional force overthrew [the] legitimately elected government” of Viktor Yanukovych. The U.S., he said, chose to support this “unconstitutional overthrow.”

He said the new government of Petro Poroshenko restricts people who think, speak, believe and live as Russians do and tried to prevent Crimeans from exercising their right to self-determination. In this conflict, Russia has consistently encouraged Kiev to “stop shelling its own people” and negotiate, but the Ukrainian government refused, Kislyak said.

Speaking to other disagreements between the two nations, Kislyak said the Russian government did nothing illegal in providing asylum to Snowden. Snowden did not break any Russian laws, and the U.S. does not have an extradition agreement with Russia, Kislyak explained.

Kislyak also said that on the eve of Russia’s first Winter Olympics, international pressure about Russia’s laws on “non-traditional relations between genders spoiled … the atmosphere.”

“We are a conservative country,” Kislyak said. “We do not try to impose our views on others, and do not want to see the views of others imposed on us.”

Students interviewed after the discussion said they appreciated hearing the Kremlin’s perspective.

Julia Sinitsky GRD ’16 said Kislyak’s views were consistent with the general policy line that Russia has been standing by for the past few years.

Alexander Dubovoy ’16 said it was interesting that Kislyak traced the change in American-Russian relations to the time of the Sochi Olympics. Dubovoy also commented on Kislyak’s reference to Russia’s laws regarding homosexuality.

“His veiled reference to gay rights is an interesting way of phrasing things … he downplayed the issue and portrayed it as a tool in ongoing relations between two countries,” Dubovoy said.

Kislyak has served as Russia’s ambassador to the United States since 2008.