Icy comments come in wake of fresh US sanctions over Crimea
Russia hopes for "constructive dialogue" under Trump presidency
The frosty relationship between the United States and Russia has become even more icy after Moscow said communications between the countries were at the bare minimum.
“Nearly all levels of our dialogue (with the US) has been frozen,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview Wednesday with Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
“We do not talk to each other. Or we do it to a minimum,” he said.
But US State Department spokesman John Kirby had a different take, saying in a statement: “Diplomatic engagement with Russia continues across a wide range of issues.”
Indeed, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on the phone this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the situation in Syria, Kirby said.
So why the cold words from Moscow?
Fresh US sanctions over Crimea
Peskov’s comments come a day after the United States imposed fresh sanctions on several Russian businessmen and companies.
The sanctions were in connection with Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, the US Treasury said in a statement.
Russia reacted angrily to the sanctions, with Peskov saying it “seriously harms our bilateral relations.”
“We can only once again express regret and misunderstanding over this destructive persistence of our US colleagues,” he said, adding that Russia “will take adequate measures.”
Russia annexed Crimea, a territory in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, in 2014 following tensions with its neighbor.
World leaders managed to install a shaky peace deal in 2015. But violence continues in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, and 2016 has seen an increase in casualties.
Syria talks break down
It’s not just Crimea sparking a war of words between the countries.
“Are you truly incapable of shame?” Samantha Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a scathing attack on the Syrian regime and its allies – including Russia – last week.
Russia is the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and has carried out airstrikes in the country since September 2015 to prop up the embattled leader.
Power slammed Syria, Russia and Iran for the humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo, saying “you bear responsibility for these atrocities.”
But Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, hit back, accusing Power of acting like “Mother Teresa” despite America’s “track record” in the Middle East.
Accusations of hacking in US election
Then there are accusations from Washington that the Kremlin was involved in cyberattacks in the US presidential election.
Those hacks resulted in the public release of thousands of stolen emails, many of which included embarrassing revelations about the Democratic Party and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee.
Moscow has steadfastly denied meddling in the US election.
“We have not seen a single fact, a single proof,” Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview.
A friendlier relationship under President Trump?
Will relations between the countries be warmer under Donald Trump?
The President-elect has already indicated he wants a friendlier relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying on the campaign trail: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?”
However, former US Ambassador Christopher Hill urged caution, telling CNN: “Trump needs to understand that their (Russia’s) interest and their attitude (do) not align with ours.”
When asked whether relations between the countries could thaw under a Trump presidency, Peskov told CNN: “We don’t have rose-tinted spectacles or any illusions that things will change in a second.
“But we do hope for constructive dialogue.”
CNN’s Matthew Chance, Alla Eshchenko and Adam Levine contributed to this report.