Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed his Russian counterpart to end the invasion of Ukraine during a brief and unexpected encounter on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in India, their first in-person encounter since the war began a year ago.
The top U.S. diplomat urged Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to move toward a peace deal with Ukraine and advocated for a U.S. citizen detained by Moscow, Blinken told reporters in New Delhi later Thursday.
“I told the foreign minister what I and so many others said last week at the United Nations, and what so many G-20 foreign ministers said today: End this war of aggression, engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace,” Blinken told reporters, referring to a U.N. vote condemning Russia’s invasion.
The circumstances of the meeting were unclear. During a stop in Tashkent on Wednesday, Blinken said he had “no plans” to meet Lavrov or China’s foreign minister at the G-20. Yet Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Blinken approached Lavrov and “we didn’t push him away.”
Lavrov “disregarded in his usual manner” what Blinken told him, Zakharova said in dismissive comments on state television. “It doesn’t deserve our attention. There was nothing interesting.”
Blinken didn’t respond to a question during his news conference about why he sought the meeting with Lavrov, and State Department spokespeople declined to comment on the matter.
Blinken has previously avoided meetings with Lavrov, arguing that they wouldn’t be productive so long as Russian President Vladimir Putin showed no signs of engaging in real discussions to end the war in Ukraine.
In the meeting, Blinken said, he also raised the possibility of imposing sanctions on China if Beijing decides to provide Russia with military assistance for its war in Ukraine, adding that the issue came up on the sidelines of the G-20 foreign ministers meeting as well.
“We have sanctions authorities of various kinds — that would certainly be one of the things we and others would look at,” Blinken said. “And I say others because this concern that China is considering providing lethal military assistance to Russia, this is a shared concern. And many other partners have raised this — and not just raised this with us, but it’s my understanding they raised it directly with China, including here today.”
Blinken told Lavrov that the U.S. and other international partners would support Ukraine for as long as it takes, a senior State Department official told reporters in an earlier phone briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes, they said, adding that the U.S. side didn’t leave the meeting expecting any immediate changes in Russian policy.
The U.S. framed the encounter as part of Blinken’s larger push at the G-20 gathering to isolate Russia over its invasion. He raised the issue in repeated one-on-one meetings with other counterparts and urged other nations to support the U.S. stance for the sake of international peace and stability.
But that call was ignored by some of the G-20 members including the host. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged diplomats to stay focused on other issues such as climate change and the global economy.
In addition to the war in Ukraine, Blinken pressed Lavrov for the release of detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, the official said, and urged his counterpart to implement the New START treaty on limiting nuclear weapons stockpiles. Putin announced last month that Russia will suspend its observation of the treaty and won’t allow the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to inspect its nuclear facilities.
Although Blinken and Lavrov have both attended international summits since the war, including the G-20 foreign ministers meeting last summer and at the United Nations General Assembly in September, the two men haven’t formally met since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken and Lavrov had what the U.S. diplomat called a “frank and direct” phone call in July 2022, as U.S. diplomats tried to secure the release of Whelan and Brittney Griner, who were being held in Russia. Griner was later released in a prisoner swap that pardoned Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer.
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