Kerry in Russia to Meet Putin, Lavrov

Kerry in Russia to Meet Putin, LavrovKerry in Russia to Meet Putin, Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry was planned to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, as signs emerge Moscow and the West may be ready for a detente after more than a year of tensions over Ukraine. Kerry also met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting in Sochi marks the first visit by the US top diplomat to Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted last April, sending relations between Moscow and Washington plunging to their lowest point since the Cold War, BBC said in a report.

On the table are a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including Syria, Iran, the threat from the Islamic State and conflicts in Yemen, Libya and Ukraine, according to the US State Department.

Putin’s spokesman called the visit a “positive step” and said the Russian leader was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting in Sochi.

The visit comes two days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow to commemorate the Russians killed during World War II.

The West accuses Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending troops there - charges Moscow has consistently denied.

Earlier, Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement blaming the US for provoking the Ukraine crisis and attempting to “isolate Russia” while demanding its allies follow suit.

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The conflict followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

The US is currently providing almost $130 million in nonlethal security support to Ukraine and is helping to train the Ukrainian National Guard in western Ukraine.

 Broader Dialogue

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised Kerry’s decision to travel to Russia, adding, “We are always open to showing a political will for a broader dialogue. Through dialogue, it is possible to look for paths to normalization, to a closer coordination in decisions.”

He said Russia was prepared to discuss international “hot spots” as well as bilateral relations, and that the issue of western sanctions against Russia would not be raised by the Russian side.

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry’s trip was “part of an ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed.”

At a joint news conference with Putin, she said the annexation of Crimea had caused “a serious setback in our relations.”

The Russian Interfax news agency cited an unnamed Russian source as saying that repairing ties between Moscow and Washington would take “decades.” The source said Russia expected Washington to play a more high-profile role in resolving the Ukraine crisis.

 No Rush to Leave

The Russian foreign ministry emphasized that, despite the western sanctions, US companies were still keen to do business in Russia.

“Even under pressure from the White House, American business is in no rush to leave our market,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Boeing, Ford … ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and other companies that have invested significant funds here would like to retain their position in Russia.”

Putin himself used similar rhetoric when he called for an improvement in ties with Germany during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Moscow on Sunday.

“Entrepreneurs are pragmatic people. That’s why they are not leaving the Russian market,” Putin said.