The planned meeting in Sochi, Russia, between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin is viewed by some as a signal that the U.S. is ready to cooperate with Russia on matters of mutual interest. This is Kerry’s first trip to Russia since 2014's annexation of Crimea, which strained the relations between Russia and the West.
Kerry will also meet separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. From Russia, Kerry will head to Turkey for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers before returning to Washington, Time magazine reported. While confirming Lavrov-Kerry meeting, Russia’s foreign ministry also made note of the current “difficult period” in relations between the two nations, blaming the tension on “the targeted unfriendly actions of Washington.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Syria, not Ukraine, will top the agenda for Kerry’s meeting with Putin. There is hope in Washington that Putin is starting to view Syria in a new perspective, given that Syria's President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally, has been facing a series of setbacks and is relatively isolated. In the meantime, the U.S. military has launched a program to train anti-Assad rebels. “We’re going to press upon the Russians that now is the time for them to really make a 180-degree turn on their support for the regime given what’s happening on the ground,” a U.S. official said.
However, convincing Putin will be big diplomatic challenge, given the strained nature of U.S.-Russian relations. While seeking a change in Putin’s position on Syria, Kerry also will seek Putin's continued cooperation on nuclear talks with Iran. The Ukraine issue also could crop up: Kerry may probe Russia’s commitment to progress in ceasefire and peace talks, despite reports of Moscow's perceived support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while visiting Moscow, flayed Putin’s policies in Ukraine. “The criminal and illegal annexation of Crimea and the warfare in eastern Ukraine has led to a serious setback for this cooperation,” she said.
Moscow will likely view Kerry’s visit as an expression of U.S. inability to grapple with problems in Iran, Syria and Ukraine without Russia's help.
Coinciding with Kerry’s Russia trip, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that Ukraine is seeing “more loss of life, a rise in ceasefire violence, obstruction of the monitors, and continued Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. This is a disturbing trend in the wrong direction.”
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