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5 Feb, 2021 09:26

Washington carves out confrontational path with Moscow in fiery diplomatic exchange between Secretary of State Blinken & FM Lavrov

Washington carves out confrontational path with Moscow in fiery diplomatic exchange between Secretary of State Blinken & FM Lavrov

The new US administration has unveiled its approach to working with Russia, as the country’s top diplomat used a call with his counterpart in Moscow to set a more confrontational tone than the Kremlin might have hoped for.

American Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared details of the call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday in a post on Twitter. According to Blinken, the purpose of the conversation was to reiterate “our resolve to act firmly in defense of US interests in response to Russian actions.”

“As we continue to engage with Russia to advance American interests,” he said, “we remain clear about the challenges that Russia poses.”

Lavrov’s account following the discussions was more upbeat, however. He said the two had found common ground over the recently rescued New START atomic weapons control treaty. However, the foreign minister linked commitments to avoid nuclear war to previous agreements about not interfering in each other’s domestic affairs.

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In response to questions from Blinken over the treatment of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Lavrov “gave detailed explanations about the need to respect the laws and the judicial system of the Russian Federation.” He also added that the US had political problems of its own, pointing to the “persecution of the protesters against the results of the presidential election,” such as those detained at the Capitol building in January. He urged the US to “ensure transparency in the relevant legal procedures.”

The diplomatic exchange came as Blinken’s boss, President Joe Biden, gave a further insight into how his White House might work with Russia. In a speech on Thursday, he claimed that, in an earlier call with the Kremlin, he “made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive action are over.”

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Namely, he pointed to the SolarWinds cyber breach, which US analysts have blamed on Moscow, Russiagate election interference, and the detention of Navalny. He added that the activist had been “targeted for exposing corruption” and “should be released immediately and without condition.” The Russian authorities maintain that Navalny’s three-and-a-half-year jail term is an inevitability under Russian law, after he violated the conditions of a suspended sentence for fraud.

In December, as part of their first call following the US presidential election, Putin formally congratulated Biden, and said he “was ready for cooperation and contacts” with the incoming leader. There had been hopes in Moscow for a normalization of relations with Washington, after they came under pressure during the tenure of former president Donald Trump.

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