U.S. and Russian officials are planning a series of high-level diplomatic meetings following the abrupt cancellation of a top diplomat's trip to Moscow, the State Department announced.
Undersecretary Tom Shannon and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak met Tuesday to resume the nascent diplomacy between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Shannon had been scheduled to travel to Moscow for a more formal summit, but the Russian government canceled that meeting after the Trump administration updated economic sanctions related to the Ukraine crisis.
An impending international economic summit in Germany increased the need for a meeting, despite Russian frustration with the sanctions. Shannon and Kislyak "address[ed] the upcoming meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin," according to a summary of the encounter from the State Department.
"Under Secretary Shannon and Ambassador Kislyak also discussed scheduling a new meeting between Under Secretary Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, as well as ongoing efforts to address issues of mutual concern in our bilateral relationship," the readout continued.
Kislyak is slated to return to Moscow, having served throughout the Obama administration only to end up developing into one of the most controversial foreign diplomats in the United States.
His conversations with former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn's firing just weeks after taking office, as Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about what he discussed. Later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 elections after Democrats accused him of hiding a meeting he'd had with Kislyak.
"The changing of an ambassador, especially to a major country, is a question of at least a year," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said after his recall was announced. "It is all planned in advance. Especially when an ambassador has worked for a long time. No unplanned replacement of Russian ambassadors is taking place."
The controversies that Kislyak is connected to helped make Trump's upcoming meeting with Putin one of the most anticipated of the new presidency. Russia and the United States are at loggerheads on critical foreign policy issues around the world, such as Syria, where they are backing opposing ground forces.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine provoked western economic sanctions, and the Russians are supporting the Chinese position that the United States has no interest in a dispute over who controls the South China Sea, one of the most significant shipping lanes in the world.
"I hope that pragmatism and realism will prevail at this meeting," Lavrov said Friday. "A personal contact between the presidents, in addition to their telephone conversations, is very important, all the more so since judging by their telephone conversations, both presidents want to overcome the current abnormality and start negotiating specific issues that affect bilateral relations, including business interests and the resolution of international problems."