Secretary of State John Kerry departed Monday for Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin, on his first visit to the country since relations between Washington and Moscow plummeted to Cold War lows amid disagreements over Ukraine and Syria.
The State Department said Kerry would meet Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. But in a sign of the considerable strains, the Kremlin said Putin’s attendance had yet to be confirmed and the Russian Foreign Ministry previewed the talks by blaming Washington for the breakdown in relations.
“The Obama administration chose the path of scaling back bilateral relations, proclaimed a course of isolating Russia on the international arena and demanded that those states that traditionally follow the lead of Washington support its confrontational steps,” it said in a statement.
Ukraine’s crisis, it said, “was largely provoked by the United States itself.”
The rhetoric hardly augured well for a breakthrough on any of the many issues dividing the U.S. and Russia. Nevertheless, both sides stressed the importance of trying to work through some of the rancor that buried President Barack Obama’s first-term effort to “reset” ties with Moscow.
The short trip to Sochi will be only Kerry’s second to Russia since taking office. He visited Moscow in May 2013, meeting with Putin and Lavrov before the Ukraine crisis erupted and Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
Following his stop in Sochi, Kerry will travel on to Antalya, Turkey, where he will attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday. Kerry will return to Washington that same day to attend meetings between Obama and top officials of the Gulf Arab states, who are concerned by the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran.