Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday celebrated a “constructive” conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying Blinken shared his “understanding of the need to overcome the unhealthy situation that developed between Moscow and Washington in previous years.”
The meeting between Lavrov and Blinken in Reykjavik came two days after the stunning news that President Joe Biden would waive sanctions on Russia to help it complete the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline.
The Russians have every reason to be delighted with Biden’s action – a head-spinning reversal from Biden’s Democrat Party, very much including Antony Blinken, portraying Russia as the number one existential threat to American democracy for the previous four years – and Lavrov was clearly pleased.
“Today we confirmed our proposal to start a dialogue, considering all aspects, all factors affecting strategic stability: nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive, defensive. I have not seen a rejection of such a concept, but experts still have to work on it,” he said.
Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker for the upper house of the Russian parliament, was also upbeat about the discussion between Blinken and Lavrov, although he grumbled about the Biden administration briefly threatening more sanctions related to Nord Stream 2 before retracting them.
“I liked the cautious optimism of our foreign minister after the talks. Given that traditionally Sergey Viktorovich [Lavrov] provides a realistic evaluation, this is a rather good sign,” Kosachev wrote on Facebook.
“The recognition that the current situation is an anomaly and that this mess needs to be cleaned up is a good place to start,” Kosachev said. “It’s clear that the sides view the reasons and ways out differently, but that’s why there is dialogue to boil the approaches down to a common denominator.”
Kosachev said the ball is now in President Biden’s court and the future of U.S.-Russia relations “depends largely on the U.S. leader because our positions, as they say, are on the table and we have always clearly declared readiness to cooperate.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will soon make a decision about holding a summit with Biden.
“Work on the assessment is still in progress, so the outcome of Lavrov’s meeting with Blinken is being analyzed, then the president will make a decision,” Peskov said.
“The very fact of the meeting, which Lavrov said was constructive, is also a positive development,” Peskov added.
“However, obviously the process won’t be easy, and indeed numerous problems have piled up. But at least, yesterday’s talks between the Russian minister and the US Secretary of State will certainly be helpful during the analysis, which Moscow is conducting on the issue of the meeting between the two presidents,” he said.
Amid these sunny reviews of the Lavrov-Blinken meeting from Moscow, the U.S. State Department insisted Blinken “reiterated President Biden’s resolve to protect U.S. citizens and act firmly in defense of U.S. interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies” and “raised our deep concerns regarding Russia’s continued military deployments in and near Ukraine.”
The State Department said Blinken “underscored the imperative of ensuring humanitarian access for the people of Syria,” discussed tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and talked about regions where Blinken felt the U.S. and Russia had mutual interests, including Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.
Blinken also reportedly told Lavrov that Russia should release Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former U.S. Marines held by Russia on highly dubious espionage charges.
Biden’s waiver of Nord Stream 2 sanctions may be popular in Russia, but it has drawn heated criticism in the United States, with both Republicans and Democrats describing it as an undeserved gift to the Putin regime that will give Moscow tremendous influence over the economy of Europe.
“The administration has said that the pipeline is a bad idea and that it is a Russian malign influence project. I share that sentiment, but fail to see how today’s decision will advance U.S. efforts to counter Russian aggression in Europe,” Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday.
“In defiance of U.S. Law, Biden is actively helping Putin build his pipeline. Objectively speaking, the Biden administration is shaping up to be the most pro-Russia administration of the modern era,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).