Lavrov and Tillerson hold talks in Moscow

The meeting will allow to define Washington’s position and may set the tone for bilateral relations for years to come

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are holding talks with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow.

Russia still has many questions regarding the foreign policy course of the new US administration. The  meeting between the two top diplomats will allow to define Washington’s position and may set the tone for bilateral relations for years to come.

Lavrov and Tillerson have already met earlier on the sidelines of the foreign ministerial meeting of G20 in Germany’s Bonn on February 16 and also had two phone conversations devoted to the death of Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin and the US missile strike on Syria’s airbase in the Homs Governorate.

The talks of top Russian and US diplomats have already turned into a special format. The discussions usually last for many hours and the final press conference may take place late at night.

US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft earlier said that Tillerson expected to have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting with Tillerson was not on the agenda of the Russian leader so far. However, Peskov noted that such events are not usually announced.

Unpredicted interlocutor

The relations between Russia and the US during the presidency of Barack Obama were in a deep crisis, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. “New Cold War? Well, maybe even worse,” Peskov said.

Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election gave grounds to expect changes for the better as he had promised significant shifts in the US domestic and foreign policy. “We positively assess the declared desire of the new US leadership to change the situation for the better, but we consider that judgements should be made on the basis of real deeds,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said two days before the US launched its missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat military airbase located in the Homs Governorate on April 7.

The missile strike, which Moscow calls an act of aggression against a sovereign state, casts doubt on Trump’s promises to turn away from the line of his predecessor. “The policy and in general what is going on in the US today once again underlines the discouraging fact – this is the most unpredictable state,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry official spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Ukraine, North Korea

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department named a broad range of issues that are expected to be discussed at the upcoming talks. Among them is the situation in bilateral relations, and the problems arising from Washington’s attempts to exert pressure on Russia using sanctions. Other issues include the fate of Russian children adopted by US parents, criminal persecution of Russians on the territory of third countries and trials against them that Moscow calls politically motivated. The new negative element in the relations between Moscow and Washington is the smear campaign in Western mass media outlets that accuse Russia of meddling in the US presidential election using “Russian hackers.”

Russia is also worried about Washington’s plans regarding North Korea’s nuclear program, especially amid the unexpected missile strike on the Syrian airbase. Another important issue is the situation in Ukraine. In his phone conversation with Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko ahead of the visit to Moscow, Tillerson stressed that Washington would not allow any deal linking the fates of Ukraine and Syria.

Prospects in Syria

The most pressing issue now is the conflict in Syria. Under the previous US administration, despite numerous attempts, the sides failed to achieve ongoing agreements on this issue. Ahead of talks, the approaches of Moscow and Washington on the Syrian issue differ significantly.

Russia has stated on many occasions that it calls for resolving the conflict based on the decisions taken by Syrians themselves. In the beginning of the year, the chances that this is possible grew thanks to the diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan’s Astana and Switzerland’s Geneva. Moscow says it is important to ensure ceasefire for advancing the political settlement, and the US may play a significant role here.

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