WASHINGTON: The United States played down Russian reports Wednesday that already tense ties between the old foes have plunged to chilly new lows.
The State Department denied a Kremlin claim that communications are frozen, noting that Secretary of State John Kerry had called his Russian counterpart as recently as Tuesday.
The Pentagon also noted that on the same day Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the claim, its officers had held a video conference with Russian commanders on how to stay out of each other’s way in Syria.
“Practically all levels of dialogue with the United States are frozen,” Peskov told Mir TV, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
“We don’t communicate with one another. Or we do so minimally,” he added, causing surprise in Washington.
“I don’t know exactly what to make of that comment,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
“Obviously, we don’t agree and have issues with Russia on a variety of issues, but dialogue has not been broken.”
Kirby said Kerry had spoken to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday by telephone to hear about talks Russia had hosted with Iran and Turkey to seek a solution to the crisis in Syria.
“Look, there’s a lot of issues where dialogue and communications between the United States and Russia remain important, and for our part, we remain committed to that dialogue and that communication,” Kirby said.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re always going to agree and it doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be tensions. But as far as we’re concerned, communications are not frozen and dialogue is still happening. Differences are still being discussed, debated.”
Russia finds itself locked in its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine and lingering disagreement about the conflict in Syria.
US President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining sanctions on Moscow over Crimea with new financial restrictions on Russian businessmen and companies.
The Russian foreign ministry said it “regretted” the new sanctions.
The White House this month also pointed to direct involvement by Russian President Vladimir Putin in cyber attacks designed to impact the US election.
The upcoming presidency of Donald Trump raises questions over the future of US policy toward Russia given his apparently softer line on Putin.
Putin himself has reiterated Moscow’s readiness to work with the Trump administration once the president-elect takes office in January, stressing the importance of normalizing the countries’ relations.
Local media quoted him as saying Wednesday at a meeting with parliamentary leaders that the sanctions “divide states and prevent them from uniting their efforts in the fight against the common evil — terrorism.”