US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for crucial talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday amid tensions with Moscow over Ukraine, both sides said.
President Vladimir Putin has refused to budge on Ukraine but has signalled his readiness to mend ties with Washington and Brussels as Russia chafes under the burden of biting Western sanctions.
The US State Department said Kerry would meet with Putin, who is spending the week at his summer residence in Sochi.
It will be Kerry’s first visit to Russia in two years.
“US Secretary of State John Kerry will pay a working visit to Russia on May 12,” said the Russian foreign ministry, adding that Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Sochi.
“We expect that Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Russia will serve the normalisation of bilateral ties on which global stability depends to a large extent,” the statement said.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined immediate comment.
Separately, the state RIA Novosti news agency, quoting a diplomatic source, said Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were set to discuss the Ukraine crisis as well as Syria, Iran and Yemen.
“Kerry’s visit to Russia is very symbolic,” the diplomatic source was quoted as saying.
“He cancelled his visit many times and finally decided to come. This will not be a breakthrough meeting but it is very important.”
The source added that the US diplomat’s Sochi visit was a sign that Russia was open to cooperation.
“We never clam up, we are open and are ready to discuss everything,” the source said.
Last year’s popular uprising in Ukraine that ousted a Kremlin-backed president sparked a diplomatic crisis and led Moscow to wrest the peninsula of Crimea from Kiev’s control and support Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev and the West accuse Putin’s Kremlin of masterminding the brutal conflict that has killed more than 6,100 people in just over a year, and have slapped several rounds of sanctions against Russia.
A source told the Interfax news agency that Russia expected Washington to play a more high-profile role in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
“It’s important that the United States begin to play a more constructive role in the Ukrainian settlement, that they force Kiev to enter into a direct dialogue with the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic,” the source said, referring to the rebel-controlled regions.
“Let’s see what the secretary of state will be able to offer in this context.”
The source also said Moscow would urge Washington to refrain from supplying Kiev with lethal weapons.
“For us it’s a principal issue.”
Despite a truce brokered by the West and Putin in February, Kiev and the insurgents accuse each of violating the ceasefire deal.
But after a year of raging tensions signs are emerging that both Russia and the West may be ready to seek detente.
‘Decades to restore ties’
Kerry’s visit would come after US President Barack Obama skipped Russia’s celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in what was widely seen as a snub over Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, ducked out of attending the Red Square military parade on May 9 but visited Moscow on Sunday to pay tribute to the Soviet dead and hold talks with Putin.
Putin has said Russia is ready to mend ties with Brussels and Washington amid hopes in Moscow that tough Western sanctions could be lifted or eased.
Kerry called Lavrov on Sunday to congratulate Russia on the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat during World War II.
“Sergei Lavrov noted that for Russia the memory of the Allies’ joint fight against Hitler’s Germany was sacred,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The source, speaking to Interfax, said bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington had hugely suffered over the past year.
“Americans destroyed nearly everything,” the source was quoted as saying. “Decades will be needed to restore bilateral ties.”