US-Russian standoff looms as top diplomats meet in Iceland
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) – Senior diplomats from the United States and Russia are due to face each other this week in Iceland for their first face-to-face meeting which comes as ties between nations have deteriorated sharply in recent times month.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and longtime Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plan to hold talks on Wednesday on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, a city with a deep history in US-Russian relations.
Even ahead of the talks – which are supposed to prepare for a summit between President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin next month – the two diplomats have set almost diametrically opposed positions for the meeting, anticipating what is likely to be a difficult exchange. and controversial.
It follows a wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as US-Russian relations threaten a return to Cold War lows. Nuclear powers disagree on a myriad of issues, including Ukraine, the Arctic, Russia‘s treatment of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, and cybermalfeasance accusations, including allegations that hackers based in Russia were responsible for a ransomware attack on a key US pipeline.
“It would be our preference to have a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia,” Blinken said on Tuesday. âAt the same time, we have been very clear that if Russia chooses to take reckless or aggressive measures that target our interests or those of our allies and partners, we will respond. Not for the sake of conflict research or escalation, but because such challenges cannot continue with impunity.
Blinken also tweeted on Tuesday the US condemnation of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to Ukraine. âWe condemn Russia’s abuses in Crimea, especially on May 18, as we reflect on the 77th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of countless Crimean Tatars from their native peninsula,â he said.
Perhaps anticipating Blinken’s position, Lavrov offered a prebuttal at a press conference in Moscow on Monday.
âApparently, a (American) decision has been taken to promote stable and predictable relations with Russia,â he said. âHowever, if that includes constant and predictable sanctions, that’s not what we need. Our attitude towards the United States includes the hope that normalized relations will be based on specific actions rather than words we have heard too much about.
Blinken said his meeting with Lavrov would be an important opportunity to test the proposition that the United States and Russia can work collaboratively on certain issues, such as climate change, the Middle East, Iran and Korea. North, despite bitter disagreements over others. The meeting comes as much of the world is focused on the Israeli-Palestinian war.
Blinken noted that despite the vitriol, the United States and Russia agreed at the start of the Biden administration on a five-year extension of a key arms control pact that President Donald Trump had. refused to renew before leaving office. Trump left a decidedly mixed legacy for Russia, which included a friendly personal relationship with Putin, while his administration still imposed sanctions and other punitive measures.
Lavrov said Moscow would determine its own “red lines” and stressed that in the area of ââstrategic stability, it would insist on putting both offensive and defensive, nuclear and non-nuclear weapons on the negotiating table.
Another area of ââdisagreement, more immediate in Reykjavik, site of the famous 1986 summit between President Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is the Arctic, where Russia has expanded its military presence and pursued policies to expand its influence to alarm Americans.
Blinken rejected Russia’s calls to take over a military component of the Arctic Council and expressed concern over Russia’s growing military activity in the region known as the “high north.”
âWe are concerned about some of the recent military activity in the Arctic,â he said. âThis increases the risk of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the common goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region. We must therefore be vigilant in this regard.
Blinken also criticized Russia for proposing new navigation rules for the region and decried Lavrov for his comments in which he dismissed these criticisms because the Arctic “is our territory, our land”.
“We must all act, including Russia, on the basis of the rules, on the basis of standards, on the basis of the commitments we each have made and also avoid statements that undermine them,” said Blinken.
In his comments on Monday, Lavrov noted grievances over Russia’s military activities in the Arctic. âEveryone has known for a long time that this is our territory, our land. We are responsible for ensuring the security of the Arctic coast. Everything Russia does there is absolutely legal, âhe said.
Moscow and Washington are also embroiled in a bitter dispute over the status of their respective embassies and consulates following diplomatic expulsions. Russia has given the United States until August 1 to get rid of all non-U.S. Personnel from its diplomatic missions, which the U.S. says will make it nearly impossible for its facilities to operate.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story.