Leading diplomats from the United States and Russia will have to leave for Iceland this week for their first face-to-face meeting that takes place as ties between nations have deteriorated sharply in recent months.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to speak Wednesday on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, a city with a history deep in relations between the United States and Russia.
Even before the talks – which are apparently preparing for a summit between President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin next month – the two diplomats set diametrically opposed positions for the meeting, previewing what is likely to happen. it will be a difficult and controversial exchange.
This follows a wave of strong diplomatic expulsions, as relations between the United States and Russia threaten a return to Cold War minimums.
Nuclear powers disagree with countless issues, including Ukraine, the Arctic, Russia’s treatment of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, and allegations of cybercrime, including claims that hackers based in Russia was 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 Tuesday. “At the same time, we have been very clear that if Russia decides to take reckless or aggressive actions aimed at our interests or our allies and partners, we will respond. Not with the aim of seeking conflict or escalation, but because we cannot allow these challenges move forward with impunity ”.
Blinken also tweeted on Tuesday about the US condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Ukraine in 2014.
“We condemn Russia’s abuses in Crimea, especially on May 18, as we reflect on the 77th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of numerous Crimean Tatars from his native peninsula,” he posted.
Perhaps anticipating Blinken’s position, Lavrov had offered a pre-study at a press conference Monday in Moscow.
“Apparently, a (American) decision was made to promote stable and predictable relations with Russia,” he said.
“However, if this includes constant and predictable sanctions, this is not what we need. Our attitude toward the United States includes the hope that normalized relationships will be based on specific actions rather than words that we have heard too much about. ”
Blinken said his meeting with Lavrov would be an important opportunity to test the proposal that the United States and Russia can work collaboratively on certain issues, such as climate change, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea. , despite the bitter discrepancies in others. The meeting comes when much of the world focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Blinken noted that despite animosity, the United States and Russia had agreed at the beginning of the Biden administration to a five-year extension of a key arms control pact that President Donald Trump had declined to renew before leave office.
Trump left a decidedly mixed legacy in Russia that included a friendly personal relationship with Putin, while his administration imposed sanctions and other punitive measures.
Lavrov said Moscow will determine its own “red lines” and stressed that, in the area of strategic stability, it will insist on putting offensive and defensive weapons, nuclear and non-nuclear, on the negotiating table.
Another area of more immediate disagreement in Reykjavík, where the famous 1986 summit between President Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev was held, is the Arctic, where Russia has been expanding its military presence and pursuing policies to expand. its influence, to the alarm of the United States.
Blinken rejected Russian calls to resume a military component of the Arctic Council and expressed concern over increased Russian military activity in the region known as the “high north.”
“We are concerned about some of the recent military activities in the Arctic,” he said. “This increases the dangers of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region. Therefore, we must be vigilant in this regard.”
Blinken also commissioned Russia to propose new navigation regulations for the region and denigrated Lavrov for comments in which he rejected such criticism because the Arctic “is our territory, our land.”
“We must proceed with all of us, including Russia, based on the rules, based on rules, based on the commitments we have made to each of them, and we must also avoid making statements that diminish them,” Blinken said. .
In his comments Monday, Lavrov noted complaints about Russia’s military activities in the Arctic.
“It has long been known that this is our territory, our land. We are responsible for keeping the Arctic coast safe. Everything Russia does there is absolutely legal, “he 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 U.S. until August 1 to get rid of all non-US personnel from its diplomatic missions, which according to the United States will make it almost impossible for its facilities to operate.