Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adopted a polite tone on Wednesday as they sat down for the first face-to-face between high-level US and Russian officials since entering according to President Joe Biden.
The discussion on the sidelines of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, lasted over 90 minutes and addressed a wide range of issues underlying the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
The meeting precedes a potential summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin later this summer.
U.S. and Russian officials have acknowledged that relations between the two countries are at their lowest point in decades, with Wednesday’s talks expected to test the waters ahead of the much-anticipated meeting between the two leaders.
A senior State Department official called the discussion between Blinken and Lavrov “constructive.”
Representatives of the two enemies of the Cold War opened the meeting with warm remarks, both acknowledging the impact of their relationship on world safety and security.
“There are many areas where our interests intersect and overlap, and we believe we can work together and, in fact, build on those interests,” Blinken said, highlighting efforts to tackle the COVID-pandemic. 19 and to fight against climate change. Lavrov joined Blinken to find common cause in Afghanistan and curb nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
The two experienced diplomats, however, did not hesitate to set their rules of engagement.
“If Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we will respond,” Blinken said. “And President Biden has demonstrated it both in word and in deed.”
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In April, the United States imposed sanctions on Moscow for a series of Russian actions, including interference in the 2020 U.S. election, the SolarWinds cyberattack, and the continued occupation of Crimea. The measures included the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from the United States
The Kremlin responded in kind by expelling ten US diplomats from Russia, sanctioning eight senior US administration officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and blocking the employment of foreign nationals by the American mission. Although they have since delayed action, the ban would cripple the ability of the US Embassy in Moscow to provide basic passport and visa services.
“We are ready to discuss all matters on the table, with the understanding that our discussions will be honest, factual and with mutual respect,” Lavrov said on Wednesday, warning, “the laws of diplomacy recommend mutuality, in especially when it comes to responding to any kind of hostile action. “
In the same hour as the meeting, the State Department announced the lifting of sanctions for Nord Stream 2, a controversial gas pipeline nearing completion that would bring gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing both l ‘Ukraine and Poland.
Seeking to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Biden has maintained a tough stance on Russia since coming to power – going so far as to agree that Putin is a killer. But his reluctance to impose sanctions on those responsible for the Russian energy project has drawn bipartisan criticism.
Despite the timing of the announcement, Blinken and Lavrov did not dive into an intense discussion on the matter, according to a senior State Department official.
The ransomware attack on the colonial pipeline by criminal hackers known as DarkSide has also been brought up, but only in the context of other IT issues, the official said.
Blinken also expressed concern over the fate of US detainees Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, as well as Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the pressure on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.