Blinken and Lavrov Hold First Meeting: Implications for the Caspian Region
After the extension of the New START treaty until February 5, 2026, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a telephone conversation to discuss the importance of nonproliferation, the rising threat of China, and other current issues in U.S.-Russian relations. They also addressed arms control with regard to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty and prospects for the Open Skies Treaty. According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken addressed current security issues such as Russian interference in the 2020 elections, the SolarWinds hack on U.S. government agencies, and Russian military aggression in Ukraine and Georgia. He also called for the release of American citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed who are detained in Russia. Whelan and Reed were ex-Marines who were sentenced, respectively, to 16 years in prison for espionage and nine years in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Both men deny the charges.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Lavrov brought up Moscow’s earlier request to approve joint-statements on the unacceptability of nuclear war and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. Blinken also brought up the issue of the poisoning and subsequent jailing of opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. After his January 17 arrest, the United States has repeatedly called for his release and the freeing of protestors detained at demonstrations in his support. In response, Lavrov emphasized the importance of respecting the judicial system and laws of Russia and drew attention to the issues surrounding the “persecution of the protesters against the results of the presidential election.” Despite disagreement, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press release added that both officials were dedicated to normalizing bilateral relations, with a particular view to eliminate the difficulties in the operations of Russian and U.S. diplomatic missions. Additionally, the officials supported cooperation to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including the development and improvement of vaccines.
While there as yet are no concrete changes in U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, it is clear that the Biden administration has started by taking a stricter stance in openly recognizing the threats posed by Russia. During the Obama administration, Blinken served as a national security advisor to President Obama and then-Vice President Biden, and went on to become Deputy Secretary of State. After the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea, he played a key role in crafting and imposing sanctions on Russia and supported U.S. arming of Ukraine. His previous work in the Obama administration suggests that he shares similar foreign policy perspectives and goals with Biden. With the new administration taking a firmer stance against the Kremlin’s aggression, Blinken will play an important role in strengthening U.S. ties to NATO and to the EU, and will likely advocate for Euro-Atlantic integration for Ukraine. Additionally, in January, Blinken said that if Georgia meets the criteria for joining NATO, then the opportunity for membership should be extended, noting Russia’s aggression against countries that lack the collective security protection of NATO. Support for Ukraine and Georgia should only continue to increase as the United States intends to deepen its ties with multilateral organizations.