U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan says he will be returning to the United States for consultations this week amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have entered a new phase of heightened tensions recently with U.S. President Joe Biden announcing punishing sanctions over cyberattacks, election interference, and threats against U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Further souring the mood has been the issue of the health of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Russia's buildup of troops along the border in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and new allegations of Russian involvement in a deadly explosion at a munitions depot in the Czech Republic in 2014.
"I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia," Sullivan was quoted on April 20 as saying by embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross.
"Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year, and that is another important reason for me to return home for a visit. I will return to Moscow in the coming weeks before any meeting between Presidents Biden and [Vladimir] Putin," he added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters that it is "absolutely the intention" for Sullivan to return to Russia after visiting his family and members of the new administration.
"He'll return to Moscow soon," she said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing that the ambassador's return to Washington is coming at an "opportune time" as the administration formulates "a new approach to Moscow."
Sullivan's announcement comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week said that Putin's top foreign-policy aide, Yury Ushakov, had recommended that Sullivan return to Washington to conduct "serious consultations."
Russia's envoy to the United States last month returned to Moscow for consultations after Biden suggested that he believes Putin is a murderer.
Sullivan's announced departure also comes a day after U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed with his Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev, bilateral issues, “regional and global matters of concern,” as well as “the prospect of a presidential summit” between the two countries’ presidents.
Sullivan and Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, agreed in their telephone call on April 19 "to continue to stay in touch," National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement, which came after the Kremlin announced that Putin planned to speak later this week at an online summit on climate change organized by the United States.
Patrushev and Sullivan "discussed the preparations” for a potential summit between Putin and Biden, as well as “possible directions for the development of Russian-U.S. cooperation," Russia's Security Council said in a statement, according to Russian news agencies.
Biden has proposed to meet the Russian leader face-to-face to discuss bilateral relations. Putin has not yet indicated whether he would accept that invitation.
"I will return to Moscow in the coming weeks before any meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin,” Ambassador Sullivan said in his statement.