The US Ambassador to Russia will return to the United States this week for discussions with the Biden administration about the relationship between Russia and the US, amid heightened tensions between the two nations.
Ambassador John Sullivan plans to come back to the US for “consultations,” the US Embassy in Moscow said in a statement Tuesday.
“I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia,” Sullivan said in the statement released by the embassy.
Sullivan said he will return to Moscow in the “coming weeks” before any meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year, and that is another important reason for me to return home for a visit,” he added.
Sullivan’s return home comes after the US last week imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2020 US election, its SolarWinds massive cyberattack and its ongoing occupation and “severe human rights abuses” in Crimea.
The penalties included the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in Washington, including “representatives of Russian intelligence services,” for the election interference and the cyber hack.
A day later, Russia sanctioned eight senior US administration officials in retaliation, imposed new limits on American diplomats, and said it would expel 10 US diplomats, while the US warned against a “cycle of escalation.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin told Sullivan that he should return to Washington to hold “detailed” and “serious” consultations. CNN previously reported that the Kremlin had summoned Sullivan to the foreign ministry for what it said was a “difficult” conversation following the US sanctions against Russia.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that they “have not yet received any official diplomatic correspondence providing details of the Russian government’s actions against the diplomatic mission of the United States of America in Russia.”
“When we do receive any correspondence from Russian authorities, we will review that, and we reserve the right, of course, to respond as we see fit,” he said at a briefing.
“The ambassador has not been expelled. The ambassador has not been ordered out of the country. The ambassador is returning now at an opportune time to undertake consultations here, to see his family, and again I expect he’ll return to Moscow in the coming weeks,” he added.
Price explained that Sullivan has not yet had a chance to meet with incoming administration officials as he has not been home for “some time.”
Tensions between the Russia and the United States continue to rise as Moscow is also amassing forces along the Ukraine border in the largest buildup of Russian troops since 2014 when Russia invaded and occupied the Crimean Peninsula, Biden administration officials have said.
The Biden administration is also considering options to punish Russia if imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies in state custody, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday.
As of Tuesday, the Biden administration has not finalized how it will hold Russia accountable if Navalny dies, according to a source familiar with the planning.
Efforts to develop sanctions options are ongoing at the State Department, and there are intense meetings at the working level this week to review and crystalize those options so that the administration can plan for different scenarios, the source said. The department is also developing options for sanctions if Russia makes further incursions into Ukraine, the source said.
A NSC spokesperson said they would not telegraph the Biden administration’s punches and would not provide any details beyond the remarks Jake Sullivan made over the weekend.
John Sullivan, a Trump administration appointee, has been the US ambassador to Russia for about a year and a half. The Biden administration had recently decided to keep Sullivan on the job for the foreseeable future, two senior administration officials had told CNN.
Biden spoke with Putin last Tuesday in which he proposed a meeting in a third country in the coming months. According to readouts of the call from the White House and Kremlin, Navalny was not a topic of discussion when Biden and Putin spoke last week.
As the Biden administration draws up options, there is mounting pressure for the US to be more direct with its warnings to Russia. Maria Pevchikh, a close aide to Navalny, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day” Tuesday that the consequences being considered by the Biden administration as a result of what happens to Navalny “need to happen before he dies. Because who really cares what happens after he dies.”
CNN’s Zahra Ullah, Nicole Gaouette, Anna Chernova, Jennifer Hansler and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.