U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Russia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials, in his first visit since relations plummeted over sharp disagreements on Ukraine and Syria.
The State Department said Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry on Tuesday will discuss "a full range of bilateral and regional issues," as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that U.S. views are clearly conveyed. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the talks also will focus on ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and six nations seeking a deal to contain Tehran's nuclear program.
By late Monday, however, the Kremlin had not confirmed Putin's participation in the Sochi talks. Spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, "We will make an announcement if such a meeting takes place."
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Moscow Monday of violating the cease-fire in the Ukraine conflict by continuing to supply pro-Russia separatists with military aid.
Stoltenberg and NATO military chief U.S. General Philip Breedlove have repeatedly accused the Kremlin of lending support to pro-Russian rebels battling Ukraine forces in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking Monday in Brussels, Stoltenberg described the Russian buildup since a February cease-fire as "a steady flow of heavy equipment, tanks, artillery, ammunition, air defense systems and a lot of training." Last month, in a similar critique, he said the ongoing buildup – including at that time more than 1,000 pieces of heavy equipment – gave "reason for great concern" and would allow rebels to launch new military offensives in the east with little advance warning.
Moscow has repeatedly denied the NATO claims. In late April, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu countered by accusing the U.S. military of providing training in urban fighting to Ukrainian national guardsmen near the border.
Kerry, after his brief stop in Russia, is scheduled to go to Turkey for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. Then he'll return to the United States for a summit of Arab leaders that President Barack Obama is hosting at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington.