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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting in Reykjavik. May 19, 2021. 

Clearing the roadblocks Lavrov and Binken discuss regional conflicts, Navalny, and the repression of the opposition during first face-to-face meeting

Source: Meduza
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting in Reykjavik. May 19, 2021. 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting in Reykjavik. May 19, 2021. 
Russian Foreign Ministry / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Reykjavik on May 19. During the talks, which lasted two hours, Blinken raised concerns about Russia’s recent military deployments near Ukraine, the repression of opposition groups, and the health of jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny. In conversation with journalists, Lavrov described the talks as “constructive,” but underscored the “numerous roadblocks” in bilateral relations between Russia and the United States. Here’s what the two top diplomats said to each other.

The first face-to-face meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took place in Reykjavik on May 19, on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting. 

Taking precautions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Lavrov and Blinken skipped the traditional handshake and greeted each other by touching elbows. Their talks, which took place inside Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall, lasted nearly two hours, reports the Russian state news agency TASS. 

What Blinken said to Lavrov

According to Spokesperson Ned Price, during his meeting with Lavrov, 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.”

Blinken also “made clear” that Russia should release American nationals Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed (Whelan is serving a 16-year espionage sentence in Russia, while Reed was imprisoned for nine years for resisting arrest). 

“Secretary Blinken raised our deep concerns regarding Russia’s continued military deployments in and near Ukraine, its actions against VOA [Voice of America] and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the health of Alexey Navalny and the repression of opposition organizations, among other issues,” Price added.

The Russian and American diplomats also discussed the situation in Syria, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and curbing Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, the Secretary of State’s spokesperson said. 

On the eve of the talks, Blinken confirmed to journalists that the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden, which Biden proposed during a call with Putin back in April, would “probably” take place “in the weeks ahead.”

What Lavrov said to Blinken

Lavrov found his conversation with Blinken “constructive.” “There is an understanding of the need to overcome the abnormal situation that took shape in relations between Moscow and Washington in the previous years. There are numerous roadblocks. It is not easy to clear them,” Lavrov said during a press briefing following the talks. “I felt that Antony Blinken and his team are determined to do that. As for us, we will not be found wanting.” 

At the same time, the Russian Foreign Minister lamented the fact that the Trump administration didn’t revise the “tit-for-tat blows” initiated under former President Barack Obama. “When he [Obama] was leaving the White House, they confiscated our diplomatic property in the United States in what was in effect corporate raids,” Lavrov told the press. “We thought that the Trump administration would revise these decisions. But this failed to happen. On the contrary, in 2017, the United States adopted new anti-Russia, anti-diplomatic decisions.” 

The Russian diplomat also emphasized that he and Blinken discussed a number of “regional conflicts” and “agreed to continue joint efforts, ones that are going ahead with sufficient success.” “I think this was a very useful discussion,” Lavrov concluded.

Lavrov also expressed hopes that Putin and Biden “will map further ways for joint efforts to rectify the clearly abnormal situation in bilateral relations.” 

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Story by Pyotr Lokhov

Translation by Eilish Hart