On Thursday, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the U.S., met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This was their first meeting since the war in Ukraine began over a year ago. The talks between the two took place on the sidelines of the G-20 Foreign Ministers in New Delhi, a significant moment as such high-level engagements between the two nations have become quite rare since the start of the war in February last year. The fact that the meeting took place briefly is a positive sign and may indicate a potential thawing of tensions between Russia and the U.S.
Blinken & Russian FM Lavrov met for the first time since the Ukraine war began more than a year ago. Blinken raised three key issues during the roughly 10-minute meeting, which included the ongoing conflict, the New START treaty, & the wrongful detention of Paul Whelan.#Blinken pic.twitter.com/dBYFED9uS6
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 3, 2023
During the meeting between Blinken & Lavrov, they discussed several important issues against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine. The U.S. has sternly warned China against materially supporting Russia’s conflict. Bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia have deteriorated, with Moscow suspending its participation in the New START Treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between the two nations. Additionally, Russia continues to hold American citizen Paul Whelan, whom the State Department has deemed wrongfully detained.
In the roughly 10-minute-long conversation, Blinken raised these three key issues with Lavrov. According to one State Department official traveling with Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State initiated the conversation. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Blinken raised the issues during the meeting. Despite the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov, there are few high expectations that it will lead to any significant breakthrough in the key tensions between Russia and the U.S.
Blinken Urges Russia to End Aggressive War in Ukraine
Blinken urged Moscow to end the ongoing war in Ukraine and to engage in diplomacy that could result in a fair and long-lasting peace. Moreover, he pointed out that Ukrainian President Zelensky has proposed a 10-point plan for a just and durable peace. The U.S. is ready to assist Ukraine diplomatically to achieve this goal. During a press conference in Delhi later that day, Blinken emphasized the United States’ commitment to supporting Ukraine in ending the war.
Blinken criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lack of interest in engaging in diplomatic discussions regarding the Ukraine war. Putin has stated that there is nothing to discuss unless Kyiv accepts what he calls “the new territorial realities” while continuing to pursue aggressive actions against Ukraine. Blinken described Putin’s approach as the brutalization of Ukraine. Furthermore, he stressed the importance of ending the conflict through diplomatic means. The U.S. has been calling on Russia to end the war, and other nations, including the G-20 Foreign Ministers, have echoed this message.
During a news conference, Blinken stated that several foreign ministers had raised concerns directly with China regarding their possible provision of lethal assistance to Russia. He also emphasized that this is a shared concern and reiterated that such actions by China would have serious implications for the relationship between the U.S. and China. Blinken warned that there would be consequences for engaging in these actions, although he did not provide any specific details. He suggested that various sanctions would be one of the options available to the U.S. and other concerned nations.
Blinken Raises Issue of Paul Whelan’s Detention in Conversation with Lavrov
During his conversation with Lavrov, Blinken brought up the case of Paul Whelan’s wrongful detention. Blinken stated that he had raised the issue numerous times and that the U.S. has proposed a severe solution, which Moscow should accept. Whelan, a former US Marine with citizenship in multiple countries, including the U.S., was detained by Russian authorities in December 2018 under allegations of being involved in an intelligence operation. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial criticized by U.S. officials for being unfair.
The United States managed to secure the release of another American citizen, Brittney Griner, in a prisoner swap in December 2022. However, U.S. officials revealed that Moscow rejected the deal to release Paul Whelan, who remains wrongfully detained in Russia. Following Blinken’s discussion with Lavrov, Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, expressed her appreciation for the U.S. Secretary of State’s continued efforts to seek a resolution to her brother’s case. She stated they were pleased to see Paul’s case being highlighted and felt reassured by Blinken’s commitment to resolving the issue of Paul’s detention.
David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, expressed his gratitude for the U.S. Secretary of State’s efforts to bring attention to his brother’s situation during the meeting with Lavrov. He appreciated the mention of Paul’s wrongful detention at a rare engagement between the two high-level officials, which reinforced his belief that the White House is still working to support his brother’s case, even if their efforts are not always apparent. David Whelan stated that Blinken’s continued commitment to Paul’s cause encouraged him and his family.
Blinken Urges Russia to Resume Participation in the New START Treaty
During his conversation with Lavrov, Blinken called on Russia to resume implementing the New START treaty. The agreement is the last remaining arms control deal between the U.S. and Russia and places verifiable limits on both countries’ nuclear arsenals. Putin announced last week that Russia would stop participating in the treaty, and on Tuesday, signed a law formally suspending its participation. Blinken described Russia’s decision as “irresponsible” and urged the country to reverse it.
Blinken stressed the importance of mutual compliance and urged Moscow to reverse its decision and return to implementing the New START Treaty, stating that it is in the interest of both nations and what people around the world expect from nuclear powers. He assured Lavrov that the U.S. was always ready to engage & act on strategic arms control, even at the height of tension in the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Read Also: Russian Offensive in Ukraine Prompts Logistics Race for NATO