Russians Signal ‘Little Progress’ In Talks With Top U.S. Official

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry after her meeting with the deputy foreign minister in Moscow on October 12.  

Russian officials have signaled little progress in high-level talks with a senior visiting U.S. State Department official, saying a dispute over embassy staffing and other matters remains unresolved.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that his talks with Victoria Nuland, a No. 3 official at the State Department, were useful, but he warned of possible worsening.

"The Americans are not heeding our logic or our demands," Ryabkov was quoted by RIA Novosti and TASS as saying. "At the same time, the talks were useful."

"There is very little progress when it comes to the substantive part of the problems that exist," Interfax quoted him as saying. "There is a risk of new tensions."

The U.S. Embassy had no comment on the talks.

Nuland, who is the undersecretary of state for political affairs, is the most senior U.S. official to visit Moscow in years. She was scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, on October 13.

Her three-day visit comes amid an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to pull relations between Washington and Moscow out of the tailspin they have been in since at least 2014, when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists.

In April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said bilateral relations were now even worse than during the Cold War.

Biden met his Russian counterpart in Geneva in June as part of the effort to arrest the slide in relations, but there has been little indication of progress since then.

The two countries have engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomatic personnel, and closures of consulates, and Russia earlier this year prohibited the U.S. Embassy from employing foreign nationals, designating it as an "unfriendly state."

The U.S. ambassador to Russia has warned that most visa services for Russian were being canceled because of a lack of staff at U.S. posts.

Ryabkov was quoted as saying that he and Nuland had failed to make progress on the staffing of diplomatic missions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying that Ryabkov had proposed lifting all restrictions on diplomatic missions.

The ministry did not give specifics of that proposal, but it likely includes the return of two Russian diplomatic compounds– in Maryland and in New York– that were ordered closed in 2016 after U.S. intelligence officials said they were used for intelligence gathering.

In 2017, U.S. officials ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, and two diplomatic annexes in Washington, D.C. and in New York City.

"The Russian side stressed that hostile anti-Russian actions would not stand without a response, but that Moscow did not seek further escalation," the statement said.

Ryabkov also said that the issue of U.S. forces using bases in Central Asia as part of efforts to maintain a close watch over Afghanistan had been discussed. He said Russia was opposed to the idea.

"We emphasized the unacceptability of a U.S. military presence in Central Asian countries in any form whatsoever," he was quoted as saying.

A group of U.S. lawmakers has called for expelling up to 300 Russian diplomats from the United States if Moscow refuses to reverse its decision on local hires in Russia. The Foreign Ministry said that would lead to the complete closure of U.S. diplomatic facilities in Russia if it went forward.

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