The Russian government has canceled an upcoming high-level meeting with U.S. officials intended to help curb increasing tensions between the two military powers.

According to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the meeting has been canceled in direct response to the recent expansion of U.S. sanctions on Russian individuals and organizations tied to the military annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“As we know, in the next few days there were plans to continue the bilateral consultations on the ‘irritants’ that we have accumulated in our Russian-American relations, plans to find ways out of the extremely difficult situation in which the American side wore the partnership and cooperation with Russia down,” a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“After yesterday’s decision on sanctions, the situation does not allow for a round of such a dialogue, especially as there is no content for it, since Washington didn’t offer nor is offering now anything specific,” the ministry said.

The Statement went on to warn that Russia will respond to U.S. sanctions with “practical retaliatory measures.”

Among the 38 people and entities included in the new sanctions were two Russian government officials.  As a part of the sanctions, any assets belonging to those parties within the United States will be frozen, and they are banned from doing business with any U.S. based companies, organizations, or individuals.

“This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement on Wednesday.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said she regretted Russia’s decision, but emphasized that these sanctions are merely an expansion of pre-existing legislation that came about as a result of Russia’s actions in Crimea.

Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere. Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine,” Nauert said. “If the Russians seek an end to these sanctions, they know very well the US position: Our sanctions on Russia related Russia’s [sic] ongoing aggression against Ukraine will remain in place until Russia fully honors its obligations under the Minsk Agreements. Our sanctions related to Crimea will not be lifted until Russia ends its occupation of the peninsula,” she added.

She also contested Russia’s claims that there is “no content” for a meeting between high-level Russian and American leaders; “From our perspective, and as Secretary Tillerson has made clear, there are many issues to be discussed. We remain open to future discussions,” she said.

Russia recently declared that any U.S. aircraft seen flying west of the Euphrates River in Syria would be deemed targets for Russian anti-aircraft defenses after U.S. planes shot down one Syrian Su-22 and two armed Iranian drones in recent weeks.  The U.S. led coalition has been clear that they intercepted the Syrian and Iranian aircrafts as they were attacking U.S.-partnered forces in the region, but Syria and Iran have since accused the U.S. of working in support of the Islamic State, rather than against it, in Syria.

U.S.-Russian relations are strained in Europe as well, where America’s participation in NATO military exercises near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and a NATO jet’s intercept of a Russian Tu-154 carrying Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergey Shoygu, over the Baltic Sea have highlighted tensions between the Russian state and allied Western powers.

Russia has also been increasingly vocal in the Pacific, where the United States is currently embroiled in a tense standoff with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un over his continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the missile platforms he needs to launch them.  Russia has actively pursued increased economic ties with the reclusive North Korean state despite U.S. calls for economic isolation in order to dissuade Kim from continuing his weapons programs.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of bullying the small country, despite North Korea’s repeated threats of preemptive nuclear strikes.


Image courtesy of the Associated Press