US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov were expected to hold talks last night amid a push to agree on a presidential summit despite dire ties between the former Cold War foes.
The face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a gathering of eight foreign ministers in Reykjavik would be the highest level meeting since US President Joe Biden took office in January.
Ties have been fraught since March when Biden — not long into his presidency — said he regarded Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer,” prompting Moscow to recall its US ambassador for consultations.
The envoy has not returned.
Washington then imposed sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats over “malign” activities denied by Moscow, pushing Russia to retaliate in kind. Moscow later barred the US embassy from hiring local staff.
Given the adversarial prelude, immediate gains from the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov are likely to be modest, although they could pave the way for a Putin-Biden summit next month.
The summit idea was last month floated by the White House, but it has still not been publicly agreed.
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper on Monday cited government sources touting Switzerland as the likeliest venue.
US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said that Lavrov and Blinken were to meet last night after the Arctic Council, a regional grouping of eight nations, had finished meeting.
Washington’s ties with Moscow have been at post-Cold War lows for years, strained over everything from election meddling allegations to Ukraine and the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“We don’t seek to escalate, we are simply ... looking for a more predictable, stable relationship,” a senior state department official said.
Besides the summit, the talks could broach the subject of expulsions that have crimped the work of their diplomatic missions, as well as progress on nuclear arms control.
Lavrov, 71, has been the dour face of Kremlin foreign policy since 2004 as Moscow has asserted what it says is its rightful standing as a great world power. Russia has beefed up its military presence in the arctic and invested in northern infrastructure.
Blinken on Tuesday criticized Moscow for making “unlawful maritime claims” on the regulation of foreign vessels transiting the shipping route over Russia’s long northern coastline.
Washington was worried about the region’s increasing militarization, he said.
Lavrov on Monday dismissed NATO concerns over increasing Russian military activity in the arctic, saying that Moscow was right to ensure the security of its northern coastline.
Moscow would wait to see what Washington meant by stable and predictable ties with Russia, he said.
“If that means stable, predictable sanctions then that’s not what’s needed,” he added.
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