Kerry to Sochi: Could it lead to a 're-reset' of US-Russian relations? (+video)
The trip suggests the Obama administration sees some hope for re-engaging with Russia, despite tensions over Ukraine.
May 11 -- Bloomberg’s Scarlet Fu reports on today’s top news stories.
WASHINGTON — At the height of fighting in Ukraine last year, the Obama administration signaled that it considered diplomacy with Vladimir Putin’s Russia all but hopeless.
The United States joined the European Union in slapping sanctions on Russia’s economy over its Ukraine intervention, diplomatic channels on the Syrian conflict dried up, and President Obama reduced communications with Mr. Putin to a dysfunctional minimum.
The “reset” of relations with Russia announced in Mr. Obama’s first term was dead.
But now the Obama administration is signaling a willingness to explore the potential for renewed engagement with Russia, announcing Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Sochi to meet on Tuesday with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
It may be going too far to call the brief meeting a re-reset. But sending Mr. Kerry to Sochi (he will subsequently attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Turkey) suggests the Obama administration – despite its harsh words in the past for Putin – also sees some hope for re-engaging with Russia and working on issues ranging from Syria to North Korea and the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State (IS).
Despite the tensions and cooling of relations over Ukraine, Russia has remained a key partner in the talks that six world powers are engaged in with Iran over its nuclear program, and Russia has continued to honor its commitments under the New START disarmament treaty. At the same time Chechen separatists are showing up in Syria and now Afghanistan to fight alongside militants from IS, also known as ISIS – suggesting Russia and the US could face a common threat in the IS terrorist ideology.
Russia’s continued cooperation on issues like Iran and disarmament also has found favor with a US president whose signature diplomatic approach is engagement with those adversaries who are willing to unclench their fist and extend a hand, some diplomatic experts say.
“Looking at the optics of this [meeting], it’s very clear that what we have is Kerry flying to Sochi, not Lavrov flying to the US,” says Dmitri Simes, a noted Russia expert and president of the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “The initiative is from the US side.”