US secretary of state Antony Blinken has met Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for the first time since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Blinken and Lavrov spoke for about 10 minutes on the sidelines of a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in New Delhi on Thursday, according to a state department official.
The official said Blinken told Lavrov that Washington would support Ukraine for as long as it took and that Russia should reverse its decision to suspend participation in New Start, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two powers.
Blinken added that Moscow should release detained American citizen Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, according to the official.
Thursday’s acrimonious gathering of foreign ministers ended without a joint communiqué, with a senior EU official saying the gulf between western nations and Russia and China had widened since a G20 leaders’ summit in Bali last year, which Russian president Vladimir Putin did not attend. “The situation is a lot worse,” the official said.
Instead, India, which holds this year’s G20 presidency, released a “chair’s summary and outcome document”. This referred to previous conclusions about the war but added that Russia and China did not agree to them.
“There were differences on the Ukraine issue which we could not reconcile between various parties,” Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said after the meeting. “We found that positions were very far apart. We tried very hard, we were not the only country who tried . . . But we were not able to bridge the gap.”
Elaborating on his conversation with Lavrov in a press conference, Blinken said Washington remained ready to engage in arms control efforts “no matter what else is happening in the world or in our relationship”.
Blinken added that he urged Lavrov to “end this war of aggression, engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace”.
But, Blinken said, Putin had “demonstrated zero interest in engaging, saying there’s nothing to even talk about, unless and until Ukraine accepts, and I quote, ‘the new territorial realities’, while doubling down on his brutalisation of Ukraine”.
In comments quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency, Maria Zakharova, the country’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said there were no official negotiations and that Blinken had requested the meeting.
Russia said it and China had criticised attempts “to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries” through “blackmail and threats”.
US officials have publicly warned in recent days that China is considering providing lethal assistance to Russia.
On Thursday Blinken said Washington and its allies were considering a range of options to hold China accountable should it supply arms, including sanctions.
India has remained neutral over the war while calling for a peaceful resolution.
The host nation has also sought to focus on issues it said were of greater concern to many developing nations, such as food and energy security, climate change and debt distress.
“India’s G20 presidency is trying to provide a voice to the global south,” prime minister Narendra Modi said. “We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to get in the way of those that we can.”
India’s foreign minister also met Qin Gang, her Chinese counterpart. The two countries have been locked in a multiyear border stand-off that has led to numerous clashes between troops, most recently in December.
Additional reporting by Anastasia Stognei in Riga