State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today that Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite Moscow’s aggression and resulting sanctions, “because you can’t deal with diplomatic issues if you don’t do diplomacy.”
Kerry flew to Sochi today to meet with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “to discuss a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including Iran, Syria and Ukraine.” From there he’ll fly to Turkey.
Kremlin officials indicated they were still deciding whether Putin would see Kerry.
“At this point Putin has to believe there is nothing he cannot do. He invades Ukraine, annexes Crimea, and Kerry still runs to see him,” tweeted opposition leader Garry Kasparov.
There were reports coming out of Russia that Putin wasn’t even going to make time in his schedule for Kerry, but Harf responded to that with, “Our understanding that it’s confirmed.”
“So Putin may not even show up for Kerry! Lol. I’m sure Kerry will apologize for any misunderstanding,” Kasparov added today.
“I don’t know what we expect here from the Russians, but I know that, as we’ve talked about before, Secretary Kerry and the team have long been thinking through ways to get back to a diplomatic process here when it comes to a Geneva-like scenario where we get the parties to the table and where we can actually make progress towards a political transition in Syria,” Harf said.
“So that’s certainly going to be one of the main topics of conversation. I don’t have anything else to preview at this time about what that might look like. But we’ve certainly felt very strongly that we need to get back to that kind of political dialogue at some point, given where we are.”
Harf stressed “we’ve always said where there’re areas we can work together, we will, whether it’s the Iran talks, as you know, where we’ve really been in lock step on this issue, Syria, other issues, but also to discuss ones where we very strongly disagree, like Ukraine.”
“This is part of our ongoing effort to maintain open lines — open lines of communication on all of these issues where we agree, where we disagree, and they thought this was a good time to meet.”
Kerry speaks with his counterpart, Lavrov, “over the phone from time to time, including recently.”
“All very serious issues, and given that we’re going there, we thought it made sense to meet with President Putin,” Harf added.
Asked whose idea it was to meet, she obliquely answered, “We always make these decisions jointly about where we will meet and when.”
“Also given we’re close to the Iran deadline on the nuclear negotiations, and the Russians have been in lockstep with us on that issue, but also given what’s going on in Ukraine, the continued violations of Minsk, the continued aggression by the Russian separatist forces, these are all topics that we thought it made sense to discuss now.”
Even if Putin goes through with the meeting, there’s likely to be a message sent by the Russians: two years ago, he kept Kerry waiting for three hours.