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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Blinken and Lavrov meet for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their meeting, in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022.

By Edward Wong

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met briefly Thursday with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting, the first one-on-one meeting between the two top diplomats since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The unexpected encounter came as the Russian government used the meeting of G-20 foreign ministers in New Delhi, the Indian capital, to accuse Western nations of “blackmail and threats.”

In their meeting, Blinken made three points to Lavrov, a senior State Department official told reporters: The United States would continue to support Ukraine in its defense against Russia “for as long as it takes”; Russia should rejoin the New START nuclear arms control treaty from which it recently withdrew and abide by the terms; and that Russia should release Paul Whelan, an American citizen whom the U.S. says is wrongfully imprisoned.

The official did not say who initiated the encounter between the two diplomats.

Earlier Thursday, Blinken used the G-20 meeting to call on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and stability.

And he held one-on-one talks with top diplomats from the G-20 nations, with the aim of rallying greater support for Ukraine as it tries to repel an onslaught of Russian troops and braces for a potential new Russian offensive this spring.

“We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability,” Blinken said at a closed-door group meeting in the morning, according to a text of his remarks released to reporters by the State Department. “Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” he added.

Blinken said Wednesday before flying from Uzbekistan to India that he had no plans to meet with Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, or Qin Gang, the foreign minister of China. Blinken and Lavrov had avoided direct confrontation since the war began in February last year.

Following a meeting between Lavrov and Qin on the sidelines, the Russian foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement saying Western nations were meddling in “the internal affairs of other countries, to impose unilateral approaches through blackmail and threats, and to oppose the democratization of international relations.”

Earlier Thursday, Russian state media played down the chances of a meeting between Blinken and Lavrov. The two men “sat far apart” from each other at the first plenary session of the G-20 meeting, Russian state media reported. A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that a meeting between the two would not take place because “destruction is part of the logic of U.S. foreign policy in general,” the state-run Tass news agency reported.

Lavrov said the meeting would not end in the customary joint communiqué due to disagreements on the war in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said in an opening video address to the diplomats that, while he understood that discussions “are affected by the geopolitical tensions of the day” — a clear reference to the Ukraine war — he hoped they would keep the focus on global crises affecting the many developing nations of the world. He cited economic issues, climate change and the pandemic.

But the war in Ukraine nevertheless dominated the morning group session and other parts of the meeting. Blinken met one-on-one with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister, and the two “discussed how to mitigate the global impacts of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine” and “the United States and India’s cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” the State Department said in a readout. The second phrase is a reference to strategic efforts in Asia, including military coordination, to counter China.

On Wednesday in Uzbekistan, his second stop on a two-day trip to Central Asia, Blinken said the Biden administration saw “zero evidence” that President Vladimir Putin of Russia was prepared to engage in serious peace talks.

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