U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked briefly Thursday at a meeting of top diplomats from the Group of 20 nations in the first high-level meeting in months between the two countries.
U.S. officials said Blinken and Lavrov chatted for roughly 10 minutes on the sidelines of the G-20 conference in New Delhi. The short encounter came as relations between Washington and Moscow have plummeted while tensions over Russia’s war with Ukraine have soared.
A senior U.S. official said Blinken used the discussion to make three points to Lavrov: that the U.S. would support Ukraine in the conflict for as long as it takes to bring the war to an end, that Russia should reverse its decision to suspend participation in the New START nuclear treaty and that Moscow should release detained American Paul Whelan.
The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation, said Blinken had “disabused” Lavrov of any idea they might have that U.S. support for Ukraine is wavering.
The official declined to characterize Lavrov’s response but said Blinken did not get the impression that there would be any change in Russia’s behavior in the near term.
Lavrov, who did not mention speaking with Blinken, told reporters that Moscow will continue to press its action in Ukraine. He shrugged off Western claims of Russia’s isolation, saying “we aren’t feeling isolated. It’s the West that has isolated itself, and it will eventually come to realize it.”
He said Russia remains open to talks on ending the conflict in Ukraine, but he accused the West of effectively blocking such talks.
“They are calling on us to have talks, but I don’t remember any Western colleagues calling on Ukraine to have talks,” he said. “They are encouraging Ukraine to continue the war.”
Lavrov also mocked the U.S. threats against China. “Our Western colleagues have lost self-control, forgotten their manners and put diplomacy aside, switching exclusively to blackmail and threats.” he said.
Russia had no immediate comment on the substance of the conversation, but Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Blinken had asked to speak to Lavrov.
It was their first contact since last summer, when Blinken talked to Lavrov by phone about a U.S. proposal for Russia to release Whelan and formerly detained WNBA star Brittney Griner. Griner was later released in a swap for imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, but Whelan remains detained in Russia.
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been held for four years on espionage charges that his family and the United States government have said are baseless.
The last time Blinken and Lavrov met in person was in Geneva, Switzerland, in January 2022 on the eve of Russia’s invasion.
At that meeting, Blinken warned Lavrov about consequences Russia would face if it went ahead with its planned military operation but also sought to address some complaints that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made about the U.S. and NATO.
Those talks proved to be inconclusive as Russia moved ahead with its plans to invade and Blinken then canceled a scheduled follow-up meeting with Lavrov that was set for just two days before Moscow eventually invaded on Feb. 24, 2022.
The two men have attended several international conferences together since the war began, notably the last G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year, but they had not come face to face until Thursday.
Source – AP News