(CNSNews.com) – Claims about Russia being isolated have “nothing to do with reality,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, pointing to a record 18 meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry over the past year.
Speaking alongside Kerry at the Kremlin, Lavrov also noted it was the secretary of state’s third visit to Moscow in 10 months.
“The rhetoric about the isolation of Russia, as we have seen today, has nothing to do with reality,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We highly valuate the position of President Obama, who has highlighted for many times the importance of the respectful and pragmatic dialogue with the Russian Federation, and we highly valuate the role of the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, who practically promotes this dialogue, including during his regular visits to Moscow.”
Lavrov said he believed his 18 meetings with Kerry in the past year constituted a record number between the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers.
For Russia’s part, he said, it has “reiterated that we were never closing ourselves from cooperation and never avoided cooperation.”
Kerry’s meetings in Moscow included talks with President Vladimir Putin that went on “for about four hours,” according to Kerry.
The Syrian ceasefire effort was high on the agenda, but Lavrov said it other issues covered included the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian question, North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities, and Ukraine.
For his part, Kerry agreed that he and Lavrov had “met a fair amount.”
“And I think there’s something to show for it,” he said, pointing to the Iran nuclear deal, the agreement to remove the Assad regime’s declared chemical weapons stocks, and the Syria ceasefire effort.
“We all know that there have been some differences between the United States and Russia in these past years, but it is precisely discussions like those that we had today that lead to a better set of outcomes,” Kerry said.
“And whether it is immediate or eventual, this is the way we work to deal with the most pressing issues that the world faces today.”
Kerry did note ongoing differences over Ukraine, however.
“Let me make it clear: The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that includes Crimea,” he said.
Both Kerry and Lavrov spoke about the importance of the “Minsk” ceasefire agreement, negotiated between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists, being implemented fully.
“I reinforced President Obama’s pledge to roll back sanctions [against Russia] when all of the provisions of Minsk are complete, including the withdrawal of all weapons and fighters and the return of Ukraine’s sovereign border,” Kerry said.
The Minsk agreements of Sept. 2014 and Feb. 2015 deal with contested areas of eastern Ukraine but do not address the situation in Crimea.
It was Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 that triggered the U.S. policy of seeking to isolate Russia internationally – the isolation which Lavrov pointed out Thursday clearly does not exist.
“We are examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia,” Obama said at the White House on March 3 that year, a day after the U.S. acknowledged that Russia was in control of Crimea, and a fortnight before a referendum on the issue whose outcome the West refused to accept.
In a speech in Brussels later that month, Obama said, “Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions. And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens.”
“Across the board, Russia has found itself isolated,” Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe the following month.
Russia was subjected to several rounds of U.S. and European Union sanctions in response to its intervention in Ukraine, and its membership in the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries was suspended.
But on a range of other issues, from Iran to Syria – as Kerry noted on Thursday – U.S.-Russian engagement has not only continued, but deepened.
After Kerry’s meetings in Moscow Alexei Pushkov, an influential lawmaker who chairs the State Duma’s international relations committee, said in a Twitter post that the U.S. was evidently having to forget about isolating Russia.
“On Kerry’s visit: there is nothing more powerful in politics than necessity,” Pushkov tweeted. “Under its influence, forgetting about isolating Russia, the U.S. has begun to move.”
Last week, State Department spokesman John Kirby issued a statement on the second anniversary of the Russian takeover of Crimea, reiterating that the U.S. recognizes neither the referendum outcome nor the “attempted annexation.”
“We will not accept the redrawing of borders by force in the 21st century. Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues,” he said. “We again call on Russia to end that occupation and return Crimea to Ukraine.”
Kirby’s statement made no reference to a policy of “isolating” Russia.