Pompeo in Russia: Five Talking Points

Moscow (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have plenty to talk about with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov when the pair meet in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Tuesday.

As relations between Moscow and Washington plunge to depths not seen since the Cold War, here are topics the top diplomats could address:

- Venezuela -

Pompeo and Lavrov have in the past weeks called on the other's country to get out of crisis-wracked Venezuela.

Moscow is a key ally of President Nicolas Maduro whereas Washington backs opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Russia slammed the US's "irresponsible" support for a failed uprising against Maduro. Pompeo said Maduro had been ready to leave the country but that his Russian backers talked him out of it.

- North Korea -

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month met Russia's Vladimir Putin for their first face-to-face talks.

The meeting in Vladivostok aimed to counter US influence and boost Moscow's role on the Korean peninsula, after earlier negotiations between Kim and US President Donald Trump broke down.

Pyongyang has angrily insisted "foolish and dangerous" Pompeo be kept away from further talks.

- Election meddling -

The report by US special counsel Robert Mueller did not find Trump's campaign team colluded with Moscow but did document widespread Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Pompeo, who has promised "tough actions" on meddling, last month warned Russia would attempt to influence the next US presidential election in 2020.

"And we should expect in 2050, the Russians will be at it still," he said.

Moscow has long rejected reports it sought to swing the 2016 vote in Trump's favour.

- Prisoners -

Moscow has denounced the case against Maria Butina, the only Russian arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow's interference in US politics.

Butina, who remains incarcerated in the US, faced "arbitrary" charges, Putin has said.

Meanwhile US citizen Paul Whelan is in detention in Russia.

The security expert was accused of espionage and arrested in Moscow late last year.

Moscow has rejected the idea Whelan could be exchanged for any prisoner in the United States, saying it does not treat people as "pawns" in diplomatic games.

- Sanctions -

Washington slapped sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, damaging the Russian economy and sending the ruble into a tailspin.

The US, Canada and the European Union have added new sanctions over Moscow's subsequent backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has claimed some 13,000 lives.

Washington may be looking for progress on the separatist conflict after Ukraine elected a new president last month.