U.S. Republican Senator Rand Paul says he delivered a letter from President Donald Trump intended for Russian leader Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin during the Kentucky politician's trip to Moscow.
"I was honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin's administration," Paul tweeted on August 8.
"The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges," the senator added.
Russian news agencies quoted Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as confirming the letter "was received through diplomatic channels."
"We expect that the president's administration will receive it shortly," Peskov added.
The White House later described it as a "letter of introduction" provided at Paul's request.
"In the letter, the president mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin," spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
Paul has been visiting Russia for several days with what the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said was a "private group."
The trip to Russia comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Russian relations.
Trump has stressed the need for better ties with Russia and Putin in particular, fueling complaints from critics that he is being too friendly with a geopolitical adversary.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury and State Department have stepped up rhetoric and sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, actions in Syria, and alleged interference in elections of the United States and elsewhere.
During his trip, Paul said he had invited Russian lawmakers to meet U.S. counterparts in Washington or in a neutral third country.
"I invited the Russian Federation to send a delegation to the Capitol, and they have agreed to take this important next step," he said in a statement released by his office on August 6.
"Those who believe in either country that we should not have diplomacy are greatly mistaken," Paul said.
"It does not mean that we have no differences, it does not mean that we will not, on occasion, have discussions back and forth where we disagree. But discussions are incredibly important, diplomacy is important," said Paul, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a former presidential candidate.
Paul was one of only two senators who voted against a major Russia sanctions bill in 2017 and has praised Trump's efforts to engage with Russia, vocally defending the president when he faced widespread criticism from U.S. lawmakers over his conduct at a summit with Putin in Helsinki on July 16.