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Blinken has rare encounter with Russia’s Lavrov at G-20 meeting in India

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks past Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the G-20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. (Pool/Reuters)
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NEW DELHI — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a brief encounter Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Group of 20 largest industrialized nations meeting in the first face to face conversation between the two diplomats since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During their exchange, Blinken stressed Washington’s support for a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine that maintains the country’s territorial integrity, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

“He stressed that Ukraine and the United States want this war to end on that basis … but what has been missing is a similar determination from Moscow,” said the official.

India wanted to avoid a Ukraine fight at G-20. World powers had other plans.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the encounter took place at Blinken’s request while Lavrov was “on the go.”

“There were no negotiations,” she told the Tass news agency.

The ongoing conflict and efforts to resolve it have sharply divided this week’s gathering of the G-20 in New Delhi. The group failed to reach a consensus on a communique over differences regarding the war, India’s top diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Thursday.

The United States, Russia and China have all sought to use the gathering as a way to bolster their strategies for ending the conflict. The West has stressed the importance of helping Ukraine win back territory seized by Russia, while Moscow and Beijing have called on outside countries to stop what they view as an escalation of the conflict.

Blinken also urged Russia to reverse its decision to suspend cooperation in the New START nuclear arms treaty and accept a U.S. proposal for the release of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, said the official.

The official declined to discuss Lavrov’s response but said Washington did not anticipate that Russia had changed its position about the war in Ukraine.

“We always remain hopeful that the Russians will reverse their decision and be prepared to engage in a diplomatic process,” said the official, who noted that the exchange lasted less than 10 minutes. “I wouldn’t say that coming out of this encounter there was any expectation that things will change in the near term.”

Blinken’s contacts with any Russian officials have been extremely rare since the start of the war. Last year, he spoke to Lavrov on the phone in a discussion primarily about the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. He has been in the same room as Lavrov in international gatherings, such as a G-20 meeting last year in Indonesia, but the two did not engage in a one-on-one conversation.

Blinken wanted to disabuse Moscow of the idea that U.S. support for Ukraine might be waning, and reiterated that the United States would provide military and economic assistance for “as long as it takes,” said the official.

Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.