US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for the first time in person since the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced last year on February 24.
The pair met briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India. Since the war commenced 12 months ago, bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated sharply.
The last time Blinken and Lavrov met face-to-face was in Geneva in January last year. Last year, a senior US official confirmed that Washington and Moscow have kept diplomatic channels open despite the war in Ukraine.
Blinken and Lavrov meet in New Delhi
The meeting between the US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister took place informally on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, where senior dignitaries from around the world meet to discuss international trade, diplomacy, and security.
The G20 consists of 19 countries and the EU. Collectively, the G20 represents “85% of the global GDP, over 75% of the global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population.”
During the brief meeting, Blinken reportedly told Lavrov that Russia must “end the war of aggression” against Ukraine.
Blinken also decried Russia’s withdrawal from the New START nuclear arms control treaty and stressed Washington’s position that Moscow should rejoin the treaty immediately. He called Russia’s decision to scrap its involvement an “irresponsible decision”.
The case of Paul Whelan was another issue raised by the Secretary of State. Whelan is a Canadian-born former US Marine who was detained on suspicion of spying in Russia in 2018. Blinken stressed the US State Department’s view that Whelan has been wrongly imprisoned.
A US official later told reporters that Blinken “disabused” Lavrov of any notion that US support for Ukraine was wavering.
The brief discourse between the two top officials was said to have only lasted about ten minutes.
I went to the #G20 today with two imperatives: First, to ensure that the G20 — with India at the helm — advances our shared goals, and second, to demonstrate how the U.S., together with our partners, is acting to meet the needs of the world. We succeeded at both. pic.twitter.com/IKhOOqkePy
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 2, 2023
Neither Blinken nor the US official who later spoke to the media commented on how Lavrov responded during the brisk discussion.
The Russian foreign ministry only said that Blinken had requested to speak with Lavrov, but offered no further comment on the interaction.
However, if general Russian rhetoric is any indicator of foreign policy intent, the meeting between the two senior officials is very unlikely to alter the Kremlin’s intentions.
On Thursday, Lavrov accused the West of attempting to turn neutral countries against Moscow. “The West continues its attempts to push everyone and everything,” he said.
Indeed, Washington’s condemnation of Moscow was unequivocal during the G20 summit. “Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” Blinken reportedly remarked during a closed-door group meeting on Thursday morning.
🇷🇺🇮🇳 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a meeting with Minister of External Affairs of the Republic of India Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
📍 New Delhi, March 1
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) March 1, 2023
Diplomatic back channels
Although bilateral relations between the US and Russia have reached their lowest point since the Cold War, diplomatic backchannels have been kept open between the two countries.
Speaking in November last year, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that communication channels remain open between Washington and Moscow, thus leaving the door open to a diplomatic solution.
However, with speculation growing that either Russia or Ukraine could attempt a spring offensive, the probability of a diplomatic solution emerging soon remains unlikely.
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