High-level talks between Russian officials and a senior visiting U.S. State Department official were useful, both sides said on October 12, but a dispute over embassy staffing and other matters remain unresolved.
Victoria Nuland, a No. 3 official at the State Department, is on a three-day visit to Moscow amid an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to pull relations between the two countries out of the tailspin they have been in since at least 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists.
Moscow and Washington have engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomatic personnel and closures of consulates, and Russia earlier this year prohibited the U.S. Embassy from employing foreign nationals, designating it as an "unfriendly state."
The U.S. ambassador to Russia has warned that most visa services for Russian were being canceled because of a lack of staff at U.S. posts.
Nuland, who is the under secretary of state for political affairs, is the most senior U.S. official to visit Moscow in years.
She met on October 12 with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who was quoted by RIA Novosti and TASS as saying that "Americans are not heeding our logic or our demands."
"There is very little progress when it comes to the substantive part of the problems that exist," Interfax cited him as saying. "There is a risk of new tensions."
Also calling the talks “useful,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that U.S. and Russian officials agreed to another round of discussions to try resolve the dispute over the size and functioning of their countries’ embassies.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Jason Rebholz earlier quoted Nuland as saying she had "constructive meetings" with Russian Foreign Ministry officials during which "a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues" were discussed. She did not provide further details.
The State Department official was scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin's top foreign policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, On October 13.
In April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said bilateral relations were now even worse than during the Cold War.
Biden met his Russian counterpart in Geneva in June as part of the effort to arrest the slide in relations, but there has been little indication of progress since then.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on October 12 saying that Ryabkov had proposed lifting all restrictions on diplomatic missions.
The ministry did not give specifics of that proposal, but it likely includes the return of two Russian diplomatic compounds-- in Maryland and in New York-- that were ordered closed in 2016 after U.S. intelligence officials said they were used for intelligence gathering.
In 2017, U.S. officials ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, and two diplomatic annexes in Washington, D.C. and in New York City.
"The Russian side stressed that hostile anti-Russian actions would not stand without a response, but that Moscow did not seek further escalation," the statement said.
Ryabkov also said that the issue of U.S. forces using bases in Central Asia as part of efforts to maintain a close watch over Afghanistan had been discussed. He said Russia was opposed to the idea.
"We emphasized the unacceptability of a U.S. military presence in Central Asian countries in any form whatsoever," he was quoted as saying.
A group of U.S. lawmakers has called for expelling up to 300 Russian diplomats from the United States if Moscow refuses to reverse its decision on local hires in Russia. The Foreign Ministry said that would lead to the complete closure of U.S. diplomatic facilities in Russia if it went forward.