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Top US, Russian diplomats hold talks in Helsinki

Russian officials at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale has met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Helsinki and discussed “U.S.-Russia relations and the impact of regional challenges in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,” the State Department said in a statement.

Hale “stressed that while the United States seeks to narrow differences and foster cooperation with Russia on a number of global challenges, Russia’s negative actions continue to be a barrier for progress in our bilateral relationship,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on July 10.

Ryabkov said he and Hale discussed the situation in Venezuela among other issues during the meeting, but failed to reach common ground. He said that Russia didn’t have any troops in Venezuela, but periodically had to send experts there and saw no need to discuss it with Washington.

Russia has staunchly supported Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and supplied Venezuela with weapons and loans.

Moscow deployed around 100 military experts to Venezuela some three months, a move that infuriated Washington, which has sought to push Maduro from power.

Maduro has been locked in a months-long struggle with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January declared himself acting president. More than 50 countries led by the United States have backed Guaido.

Ryabkov said that he and Hale also discussed the case of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former U.S. Marine who has been jailed in Russia on espionage charges. He added that Moscow was not considering exchanging him for Russians in U.S. custody.

Whelan has denied the charges and publicly complained of poor conditions in prison.