December 7, 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gesticulate as they arrive for a meeting at the Harpa Concert Hall on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 19, 2021.

Saul Loeb | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov highlighted areas where Washington and Moscow, despite their stark differences, could work together in a cautious first face-to-face meeting since President Joe Biden took office.

The Wednesday evening meeting, following the ministerial talks of the Arctic Council in Iceland, lasted approximately 90 minutes and was described as a “factual, productive discussion” by a senior State Department official.

Blinken thanked Lavrov for attending the meeting and highlighted areas where the two countries could work together.

“There are many areas where our interests intersect and overlap and we believe we can work together and actually build on those interests,” Blinken said, listing the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. Lavrov echoed Blinken’s remarks when he made joint efforts to contain the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Following the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the talks were “constructive” but added that “many problems have accumulated” between Washington and Moscow.

Peskov said the Kremlin has not yet decided on a possible summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin later this year. Biden, while speaking with Putin in April, proposed a summit to take place outside the US and Russia.

The discussion between Blinken and Lavrov, the personal talks at the highest level between Washington and Moscow under the Biden administration, takes place as the US pushes back on Russia on several fronts.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Costas Baltas Reuters

Earlier this month, Colonial Pipeline fell victim to a widespread ransomware attack that forced the US company to shut down approximately 5,500 miles of pipeline, cutting off half fuel supplies on the east coast and fuel shortages in the southeast.

Ransomware attacks are malware that encrypts files on a device or network and causes the system to become inoperable. Criminals behind such cyber attacks usually demand a ransom in return for releasing data

The attack by a Russian cyber criminal group called DarkSide is the latest cyberattack on US critical infrastructure. After the attack, Biden told reporters at the White House that the US currently had no information linking the DarkSide group’s ransomware attack to the Russian government.

“So far there is no evidence from our intelligence officials that Russia is involved, although there is evidence that the actor’s ransomware is in Russia, they have a certain responsibility to deal with it,” Biden said on May 10th. He added that he would discuss the situation with Putin.

The Kremlin has previously denied claims that it launched cyberattacks against the United States.

In March, the United States sanctioned seven members of the Russian government for the alleged poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s leading critic in Russia. The sanctions were the first to be directed against Moscow under Biden’s leadership. The Trump administration has taken no action against Russia because of the situation in Navalny.

Later that month, Biden called Putin a “killer” and vowed that the Russian leader would “pay a price” if he interfered in the 2020 US election and tried to increase Trump’s chances of reelection.

In April, Washington hit Russia with another round of US sanctions for human rights abuses, widespread cyberattacks and attempts to influence the US elections. The Biden government has also banned 10 officials from Russian diplomatic missions in the United States.

Moscow has previously denied any wrongdoing and denied US allegations. Russia described the recent moves of the White House as a blow to bilateral relations and promised to impose swift retaliatory measures.

In response to the US action, Russia has expelled ten US diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow and sanctioned eight high-ranking US administrative officials, including FBI director Christopher Wray and national intelligence director Avril Haines.

Tensions rose between Washington and Moscow last month as Russia increased its military presence along the Ukrainian border and raised concerns in the west about a possible war between the two neighboring countries. Russia ordered its troops to withdraw from the border last month.

Ukrainian soldiers work with Russia-backed separatists near Lysychansk, Lugansk region, on their tank near the front line on April 7, 2021.

Photo by STR / AFP via Getty Images

Before the withdrawal, the Russian Defense Ministry announced it had conducted more than 4,000 military exercises to review the readiness of its armed forces.

The Ukrainian government said four of its soldiers were killed by Russian shelling in Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists oppose the central government in Kiev.

At the time, the Kremlin denied claims that its armed forces were in eastern Ukraine and reiterated that Moscow would continue to move its armed forces over Russian territory at its discretion, calling the escalating tensions “unprecedented”.