WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the release of Americans detained in Russia during a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday that also encompassed nuclear arms control and China, a State Department spokesman said.
Blinken also raised with Lavrov Russia’s interference in the 2020 United States election, its military moves in Ukraine and Georgia, the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and last year’s cyberattack on U.S. government agencies that Washington blames on Russia.
“The Secretary reiterated President Biden’s resolve to protect American citizens and act firmly in defense of U.S. interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“This includes the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed so that they are able to return home to their families in the United States.”
A Russian court in July convicted Trevor Reed, a student at the University of North Texas, of endangering the lives of two police officers while former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was sentenced in June to 16 years in jail for espionage. Both Reed and Whelan deny the charges.
Blinken took on the role of top U.S. diplomat last week, as the country’s approach to Russia is expected to radically change under President Joe Biden from the friendly attitude embraced by former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Despite Washington and Moscow having several disputes, both sides earlier this week announced that they extended the new START arms control treaty for five years, preserving the last treaty limiting deployments of the world’s two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.
The Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov told Blinken that Russia was open for normalisation of relations but reminded him that it was necessary to “respect” the law and judicial system of Russia when Blinken raised Navalny.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested at the Russian border on Jan. 17 after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. A Russian court handed anti-corruption blogger Navalny a jail sentence on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)