US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have met briefly at a gathering of top diplomats from the Group of 20 nations in the first high-level meeting in months between the two countries.
US officials said Blinken and Lavrov spoke on Thursday for roughly 10 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 conference in New Delhi. The short encounter comes as relations between Washington and Moscow have plummeted while tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine have soared.
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Blinken told reporters later on Thursday that he implored Lavrov to end the conflict in Ukraine.
“I told the foreign minister what I and so many others said last week at the United Nations and what so many G20 foreign ministers said today: End this war of aggression Engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace,” Blinken said.
He added that Washington “stands ready to support Ukraine through diplomacy to end the war” but Russian President Vladimir Putin “has demonstrated zero interest in engaging”.
The top US diplomat also said he urged his Russian counterpart to reverse Moscow’s “irresponsible decision” to freeze its participation in the New START treaty, which places restrictions on the US and Russian nuclear arsenals.
“Mutual compliance is in the interest of both our countries,” Blinken said. “It’s also what people around the world expect from us as nuclear power.”
“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,” he said.
Putin had announced that Russia was suspending its participation in the treaty during his state of the nation speech last week. The 2010 agreement limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the US and Russia may deploy.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, speaking at a UN conference in Geneva on Thursday, accused the US of trying “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”.
On Thursday, Blinken said he called on Moscow to free Paul Whelan, a former US marine detained in Russia. He revealed that Washington has put forward a proposal to secure Whelan’s release but did not provide details.
“I also raised the wrongful detention of Paul Whelan as I have on many previous occasions,” Blinken said. “The United States has put forward a serious proposal. Moscow should accept it. We’re determined to bring Paul and every other American citizen who’s unjustly detained around the world home.”
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said the Blinken-Lavrov meeting marks a rare, direct diplomatic engagement between Washington and Russia since the start of the Ukraine war. “That’s what makes this so significant even if it was a very brief encounter,” Halkett said.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Lavrov and Blinken spoke as they were “on the move” at the G20 meeting but said they did not hold negotiations or a meeting, Russian news agencies reported.
Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal, reporting from New Delhi, said that the foreign ministers G20 meeting ended on a “tense and divisive note”.
“There is no joint declaration or statement, which was expected given what happened last week at the G20 meeting of finance ministers,” Mittal said. “This is because of opposing views held by participating nations on the ongoing war in Ukraine. That is the dominant theme at G20 meetings today and has been last week.”