The newly appointed Russian ambassador to the United States has met with the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Russia to discuss ties, Russia’s Foreign Ministry says.
Anatoly Antonov and John Tefft also exchanged views on “a number of international problems," the ministry said on August 28.
The meeting in Moscow comes a week after the Kremlin announced President Vladimir Putin's appointment of Antonov, a veteran diplomat who is under European Union sanctions for his role in Moscow's interference in Ukraine.
Relations between Moscow and Washington are severely strained by animus over Russia's aggression in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
The latest spiral of tension involves the countries’ diplomatic representations. Russia late last month demanded that the United States cut 755 of the roughly 1,200 staffers -- many of whom are Russians -- at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and consulates in three other Russian cities.
The U.S. Embassy said on August 21 that it was sharply curtailing nonimmigrant visa processing at the four missions.
Teffts said on August 23 that the move was forced by the Russian demand for dramatic diplomatic staff cuts and was "not vindictive," but Russia has reacted with accusatory words. Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, who has become known for strong language, was quoted as saying on Russian channel Dozhd (TV Rain) that the reduction of visa services was "some kind of genocide of ordinary [Russian] people."
Antonov, 62, has served in both the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry.
He has been a staunch public advocate of Russia's assertive foreign policy in recent years, and is seen as a tough negotiator on issues including arms control.
In February 2015, the EU added Antonov to a list of Russians targeted by sanctions over Moscow's takeover of Crimea and backing for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying he was "involved in supporting the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine."
Canada and Ukraine have also imposed sanctions on Antonov, who was a deputy defense minister from February 2011 to December 2016. The United States has not.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since April 2014 in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists, who hold parts of two provinces in eastern Ukraine.
Antonov took over from Sergei Kislyak, whose contacts with members of President Donald Trump's campaign team during the 2016 presidential campaign and the transition following his win in November are among the subject of U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election and whether there was any collusion between Russia and allies of Trump. Both Trump and Moscow deny the allegations.
Tefft is expected to leave Moscow this year. In July, Trump nominated Jon Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to China, to be ambassador to Russia. His appointment is subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, Interfax, and MK