Diplomacy Watch: Blinken to meet with Lavrov in first since Russia invaded Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “in the coming days” — the first meeting between the two leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
The decision is likely to earn plaudits from diplomats and restrainers, many of whom have begged Washington to open up channels of communication with the Kremlin in order to reduce chances of escalation and accelerate the path to peace.
In a press conference, Blinken said the meeting will focus on two key issues: 1) Securing the release of two Americans detained in Russia and 2) ensuring the implementation of a recent deal to restart the export of Ukraine’s grain stocks from its Black Sea ports.
On the first issue, Blinken told reporters that Washington has made a “substantial proposal” to Russia in exchange for basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, both of whom the United States considers to be political prisoners.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” he said. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.”
Blinken also pledged to push his Russian counterpart to adhere to a Ukraine-Russia grain deal signed last week. “There’s a difference between a deal on paper and a deal in practice,” he said.
Later in the press conference, Blinken emphasized that the call “will not be a negotiation about Ukraine,” adding that “any negotiation regarding Ukraine is for its government and people to determine.”
But many experts argue that it’s short-sighted to leave Ukraine off the table. In an op-ed published before Blinken’s announcement, researchers Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro argued that the U.S. government must start talking to Russia about how to end the war.
“Starting talks while the fighting rages would be politically risky and would require significant diplomatic efforts, particularly with Ukraine — and success is anything but guaranteed,” Charap and Shapiro wrote. “But talking can reveal the possible space for compromise and identify a way out of the spiral. Otherwise, this war could eventually bring Russia and NATO into direct conflict.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
– A shipment of Ukrainian grain is set to depart from one of Kyiv’s Black Sea ports “within days,” according to Reuters. The news should help to assuage fears that Moscow would renege on the deal after Russian forces bombed the port of Odessa on Saturday. In hopes of helping to enact the accord’s provisions, Turkey set up a coordination center in Istanbul that will track shipments from Ukrainian ports and search inbound ships for weapons. More than 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is now poised to enter the world market, according to Ankara.
– On Saturday, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban called on the United States and Russia to hold talks aimed at ending the war in Ukraine, according to EUobserver. Orban argued that Kyiv has no path to victory given Moscow’s larger military. “The more modern weapons NATO gives the Ukrainians, the more the Russians will push the frontline forward. What we are doing is prolonging the war,” he said. “As Russia wants security guarantees, this war can be ended only with peace talks between Russia and America.” For some observers, Orban’s statements are a sign that Western unity on Ukraine is breaking down, especially as a looming gas crisis threatens to leave much of Europe out in the cold this winter.
– Russia announced Tuesday that it will withdraw from the International Space Station, according to the New York Times. Though the announcement said the withdrawal would come by 2024, a NASA official told Reuters that the move will likely take until at least 2028. If Moscow follows through with the decision, it will put an end to the Kremlin’s symbolically powerful post-Cold War policy of cooperating with Washington in space. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the move came as a surprise to the U.S. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has obviously changed our relationship fundamentally,” he said. “But there are still aspects of our relationship, including our joint pursuits in science, joint pursuits in safety, people-to-people ties, that we would like to see preserved, and the Russians are sending a contrary signal here.”
– Lavrov spent the past week on a charm tour of Africa, visiting Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia. The Russian foreign minister earned a warm welcome in each country, with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni going so far as to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine as legitimate, according to Reuters. “Whenever issues come up and some people want us to take positions against Russia, we say ‘but you people, these people have been with us for the last 100 years, how can we be automatically against them?’” Museveni added. During a trip to Benin, French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the “hypocrisy” of African leaders who refuse to condemn the Ukraine war, adding that he considers Russia an “imperial colonial power.”
U.S. State Department News:
In a Tuesday press briefing, Price addressed concerns about corruption in Ukraine following the recent firing of Kyiv’s prosecutor general, among other officials. “Of course we’re concerned with the issue of corruption in Ukraine, as we are in countries around the world. We know, too, that this is something that this government in Ukraine has sought to address,” he said. “It’s imperative that they continue efforts to address it because, as I said just a moment ago, corruption can have a corrosive effect on democracy, on sovereignty, on independence in a way that is – that stands in contrast to what we are trying to help our Ukrainian partners do in defending themselves against Russia’s aggression.”