- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe., Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, where the two are slated to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and how to “set the state for a political settlement” in Syria, according to the State Department.
Though U.S.-Russia relations plunged to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War (at least according to the White House and Kremlin), Tillerson and Lavrov have met twice before since President Donald Trump took office: Once in Bonn, Germany in February, and once in Moscow in April.
This will be the first time Lavrov visited Washington since 2013. The last time a Russian president visited Washington was when then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev came to town in June 2010, a reality that underscores how tense relations between the two countries have become.
Hopes that Trump’s election would somehow dramatically strengthen ties were dashed shortly after Trump was inaugurated. Among other setbacks, Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was forced to resign for lying Vice President Michael Pence about whether he discussed lifting sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Russian politicians and pundits alike decried the move as a Russophobic witch hunt. Tillerson’s visit to Moscow days after Trump launched 59 tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Syria did not helped matters.
The situation in Ukraine, in the meantime, has made little progress since Tillerson’s April meeting with Lavrov. Fighting between Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists continues, and Russia still has not implemented the Minsk agreements. Ukraine was not included in either the White House or Kremlin readout of U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 2 call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But Tillerson and his counterpart are also set to address Ukraine this week. According to the State Department, the two officials will discuss the need to end the violence in eastern Ukraine and put the Minsk agreements into effect — much the same discussion that the United States and Russia have been having on Ukraine since 2014.
Tillerson and Lavrov are also set to discuss Syria, another situation at a seeming standstill. President Trump has pledged to work with Russia to broker peace in Syria, where the Kremlin is still backing President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s deadly civil war. In May, Trump sent the senior U.S. Middle East envoy, Stuart Jones, to Russian-mediated Syria cease-fire talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, where Russia, Iran, and Turkey signed a deal on “de-escalation zones” — that is, safe zones. That deal has been in effect since Saturday.
Ahead of Tillerson’s trip to Moscow, experts advised that perhaps some compromise could be found regarding Assad — Russia has long said that it is open to a future without the Syrian strongman.
One thing likely not on th agenda: the multiple investigations currently underway concerning Trump’s potential ties to Russia, which officials in Moscow has repeatedly insisted is a U.S. domestic matter.
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