WASHINGTON – The United States and Russia on Monday resumed high-level talks aimed at resolving irritants between Washington and Moscow, as Russian patience dwindles for the return of two seized diplomatic compounds.
Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov were meeting on Monday. U.S. officials downplayed chances for a breakthrough, especially since Russia abruptly canceled the diplomats’ last scheduled meeting in June in response to new Ukraine-related sanctions. Ryabkov did not respond to a reporter’s shouted question as he arrived at the State Department with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
The goal is to pave the way for future cooperation on Syria, Ukraine and other global issues by first building trust through discussions about smaller issues. The resumption in talks came less than two weeks after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a highly anticipated first meeting in Germany, an encounter both countries described as a positive first step toward improving relations.
Driving the agenda are grievances each country wants the other to address. The U.S. wants Moscow to stop harassing American diplomats and to lift a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. Russia wants the U.S. to return two Cold War-era recreational estates, one in Maryland and one in New York, that the Obama administration seized as part of its response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Though Putin declined to retaliate in December for Obama’s response —which also included expelling 35 Russian diplomats the U.S. said were really spies — frustration has mounted in Moscow amid disappointment that Trump has not reversed those actions. Senior Russian officials have said in recent days that without a resolution soon, Moscow will have to retaliate, possibly by expelling U.S. diplomats and moving against U.S. properties in Russia.
At the same time, pressure has been mounting on the Trump administration not to return the two compounds at least until investigations into the role Russia played in the 2016 election are completed or without guarantees that Russia will not repeat the meddling.