United States secretary of state Antony Blinken said he met briefly with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of a G20 meeting Thursday. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo
March 2 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he called on Moscow to end the invasion of Ukraine, return to nuclear arms treaty talks, to accept a deal for the release of former Marine Paul Whelan and to in a brief exchange with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday.
Blinken detailed the exchange during a news conference after the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in New Delhi, India. The foreign ministers engaged on a score of political issues, but none more prominent that the 10-minute face-to-face exchange between Blinken and Lavrov.
The secretary in his first face-to-face exchange with Lavrov since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, told the minister that "a just and durable peace" can be achieved through diplomacy and to end the fighting.
Blinken accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using land it occupies in eastern and southern Ukraine by force as a trophy for his aggression, noting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presented a 10-point plan for peace at a G20 meeting in November.
"President Putin, however, has demonstrated zero interest in engaging, saying there is nothing to even talk about unless and until Ukraine accepts 'the new territorial realities' while doubling down on his brutalization on Ukraine," Blinken said.
Blinken called Russia's move to walk away from New START talks "irresponsible" and called on them to return to negotiations. The treaty places verifiable nuclear weapons limits on the United States and Russia.
"Mutual compliance is in the interest of both of our countries," Blinken said. "It is always what people around the world expect from us as nuclear powers.
"I told the foreign minister regardless of what else is happening around the world and in our relationship, the United States will always be ready to engage and act on strategic arms control, just as the United States and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War."
Blinken said he has mentioned the "wrongful detention" of former Marine Paul Whelan on numerous occasions. He urged Moscow to accept its "serious proposal" for Whelan's release.
Whelan has been in Russian custody since 2020, imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after he was found guilty of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years. Hopes were raised last year when the U.S. reportedly offered to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner, who had also been detained.
In December, Russia only committed to exchanging Griner for Bout and keeping Whelan in custody.
"We are determined to bring Paul and every other American citizen who is unjustly detained around the world home," Blinken said. "We won't rest until we do."
Russia sought the downplay the exchange between Blinken and Lavrov, saying it was "on the go."
"Blinken asked for contact with Lavrov," Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, according to the state-run news agency TASS. "[Lavrov] spoke on the go, as part of this session of the 20. there were no negotiations, meetings, etc."