Friday, March 03, 2023

First top-level US-Russia meeting after Ukraine war

Blinken asked his Russian counterpart to end the war and urged Moscow to reverse its suspension of New START nuclear treaty

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, shown here at a meeting in August in Phnom Penh, spoke briefly at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi on March 2, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, shown here at a meeting in August in Phnom Penh, spoke briefly at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi on March 2, 2023

  • Blinken meets Lavrov for first time since invasion of Ukraine. 
  • Blinken urges Lavrov to end Ukraine conflict.
  • Calls on Russia to reverse suspension of New START nuclear treaty.

NEW DELHI: Russia and the United States' top diplomats spoke face-to-face on Thursday for the first time since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on the sidelines of a G20 meeting where ministers traded blame over the conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to end the war and urged Moscow to reverse its suspension of the New START nuclear treaty, a senior US official said.

The Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov and Blinken spoke "on the move" for less than 10 minutes at the end of the closed-door session, and did not engage in any negotiations, Russian news agencies reported.

Blinken later told a news conference he had told Lavrov to engage in diplomacy during the unscheduled encounter.

“I told the foreign minister that no matter what else is happening in the world or in our relationship, the United States will always be ready to engage and act on strategic arms control, just as the United States and the Soviet Union did even at the height of the Cold War,” Blinken added.

A State Department spokesperson said the US is not expecting further formal senior-level dialogue with Russia in the near term, and that it did not believe Blinken and Lavrov's "brief encounter" will change Moscow's attitude.

Earlier in the meeting of foreign ministers, the United States and European allies urged the Group of 20 (G20) nations to keep up pressure on Moscow to end the conflict, now in its second year.

Russia, which calls its actions a "special military operation", hit back, accusing the West of turning work on the G20 agenda into a "farce" and said Western delegations wanted to shift responsibility for their economic failures onto Moscow.


"We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability," Blinken said in remarks released after his address at the closed-door meeting.

He was backed by his counterparts from Germany, France and the Netherlands.

"Unfortunately, one G20 member prevents all the other 19 from focusing all their efforts on these issues the G20 was created for," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the meeting, according to the German delegation.

Baerbock, addressing Lavrov, urged the Kremlin to return to full implementation of the New START nuclear arms treaty and to resume dialogue with the United States.

President Vladimir Putin last week announced Russia's decision to suspend participation in the latest START treaty, after accusing the West - without providing evidence - of being directly involved in attempts to strike its strategic air bases.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking at a U.N. conference in Geneva, said the United States had attempted "to probe the security of Russian strategic facilities declared under the New START Treaty by assisting the Kyiv regime in conducting armed attacks against them".

The Pentagon later said it was "nonsense" to suggest the US was providing Ukraine with intelligence for targets inside Russia.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the war in Ukraine had hurt "almost every country on the planet, in terms of food, energy, inflation".


Russia's Lavrov, however, blamed the West for global political and economic crises.

"A number of Western delegations turned the work on the G20 agenda into a farce, wanting to shift the responsibility for their failures in the economy to the Russian Federation," Lavrov said, according to a Russian statement.

He said the West had created obstacles to the export of Russian agricultural products.

He accused it of "shamelessly burying" the Black Sea grain initiative that facilitates the export of Ukraine's agricultural products from its southern ports, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The G20 includes the rich G7 nations as well as Russia, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among other countries with major economies.

India, which holds the bloc's presidency this year, has sought to highlight the economic impact of the war as well as issues such as climate change and poorer countries' debt.

But New Delhi's efforts to bridge differences and produce a joint statement or a communique stumbled due to differences over the war. The meeting produced an "outcome document" instead.

India has declined to blame Russia for the war and has sought a diplomatic solution while boosting its purchases of Russian oil.

"There were differences on the Ukraine issue which we could not reconcile between various parties who held differing positions," Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told reporters at the end of the meeting.