US, Russia FMs meet in Iceland, hope to confirm Biden-Putin summit
Published: May 19, 2021 06:28 PM
The US and Russian foreign ministers were meeting in Iceland on Wednesday to gauge the enormous gulf between the rival powers and confirm a summit between Presidents Joe Biden and ­Vladimir Putin.

Statements preceding the face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the Arctic Council meeting in Iceland do not bode well for the de-escalation of tensions that the two say they want, with relations at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to want to make the Arctic - a new geopolitical issue at the heart of the regional meeting Wednesday and ­Thursday in Reykjavik - a laboratory for cooperation focused on common ­challenges such as the fight against global warming. 

But his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov issued a strongly worded warning.

"It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our ­territory, this is our land," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow on Monday.

The Russian foreign minister at the same time accused Norway of "trying to justify the need for NATO to come into the Arctic." 

He insisted that Russian military ­activity in the region is "absolutely legal."

The Russian warning inevitably drew a response from Blinken, who on Tuesday stressed Washington wanted to "avoid a militarization" of the Arctic.

"We have concerns about some of the increased military activities in the Arctic. That increases the dangers or prospects of accidents," Blinken said, adding that it undermined "the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region."

Since taking over the White House in January, President Biden has taken a strong line against Russia, going as far as describing Putin as a "killer" - in sharp contrast to his ­predecessor ­Donald Trump, who was accused of ­complacency toward the Russian ­leader.

Moscow and Washington have also exchanged harsh accusations and sanctions since the beginning of Biden's term in office.