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Russia: New U.S. Sanctions Threaten Bilateral Relations

  • Mike Eckel

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington on May 10

WASHINGTON -- Russia's Foreign Ministry slammed new U.S. sanctions that target mainly Russian people and companies linked to the Ukraine conflict, saying the move puts at "serious risk" the entire bilateral relationship.

The ministry’s comments were released June 22 after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

They were the latest in a series of increasingly angry comments from Moscow about the sanctions, which were announced earlier this week targeting 38 Russian individuals and firms linked to Russian actions in Ukraine.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the penalties were designed to "maintain pressure on Russia to work toward a diplomatic solution."

"Such actions put at serious risk the entire system of Russian-American relations, which were going through a difficult period even without this," the Russian ministry said.

A day earlier, the ministry abruptly announced the cancelation of talks between Lavrov's deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, and a top U.S. State Department diplomat, Tom Shannon. The two were scheduled to meet in St. Petersburg on June 23.

In that announcement, Ryabkov threatened unspecified retaliation for the sanctions.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert refused to go into specifics of the call between Lavrov and Tillerson.

But she said that Washington was disappointed about the cancelation of the talks, which she said had been set up as part of a “channel” established in April for Russian and American officials to discuss “minor issues and irritants.”

“Russia canceled it,” she said. “Russia can best explain why they canceled it. But we’re disappointed.”

She also said there had been no expectation that the new U.S. sanctions would be discussed on the call.

“Sanctions were never on the table. The meeting was about more minor issues,” she told reporters.

“Russia knows exactly why sanctions were placed on that country...due to their actions in Crimea, and in the eastern part of Ukraine,” she said.“If they want those sanctions removed, they have to address those issues.”

In another blow to Moscow, European Union leaders voted on June 22 to prolong the bloc's economic sanctions on Russia by another six months.

The 28 EU heads of state and government made the decision during a two-day summit after discussing the state of the increasingly troubled Minsk accords aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

As with the U.S. measures, the EU sanctions, which mainly target Russia's banking and financial sectors, were first imposed in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

More than 10,000 people have died in the fighting, according to the United Nations.

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