KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - The Trump administration is sending its envoy for Ukraine negotiations to Moscow in a bid to make progress on the diplomatic crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday.
After his first meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson since new American sanctions, Lavrov emerged with an upbeat assessment about the potential for finding common ground on Ukraine, Syria and other issues.
Lavrov said he and Tillerson had agreed to preserve a high-level diplomatic channel that Russia had suspended in protest of an earlier tightening of U.S. sanctions.
“We felt that our American counterparts need to keep the dialogue open,” Lavrov said. “There’s no alternative to that.”
There was no immediate reaction to the meeting from the U.S. State Department. Tillerson did not comment publicly or respond to shouted questions from journalists allowed in briefly for the start of the hour-plus meeting in the Philippines.
Lavrov said Tillerson had asked him for details about Moscow’s recent action to retaliate against U.S. sanctions by expelling American diplomats and shuttering a U.S. recreational facility on the outskirts of Moscow. The Russian diplomat said he explained to Tillerson how Russia will carry out its response, but Lavrov isn’t giving out details.
Last month, the Kremlin said the U.S. must cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, a move that echoed former President Barack Obama’s action last year to kick out Russian diplomats in punishment for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American election. The Russian announcement has caused confusion because the U.S. is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees in the country.
Word that U.S. special representative Kurt Volker plans to visit the Russian capital was the latest sign that Washington is giving fresh attention to resolving the Ukraine conflict. The U.S. cut military ties to Russia over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and accuses the Kremlin of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine by arming, supporting and even directing pro-Russian separatists there who are fighting the Kiev government.