US ambassador to Russia to fly home for consultations amid diplomatic crisis

John Sullivan (above) will travel to the United States for consultations.
John Sullivan (above) will travel to the United States for consultations.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan said on Tuesday (April 20) he would travel to the United States this week for consultations, four days after the Kremlin suggested that Washington recall him amid a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Russia recalled its own ambassador to Washington last month after US President Joe Biden said he thought his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was a "killer", and the two countries imposed new sanctions on each other last week.

Despite the dire state of relations, the Kremlin has not ruled out Biden's proposal for a summit between the two leaders in Europe. Putin will also deliver a speech on Thursday at an online climate summit hosted by Biden.

"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 a statement on the website of the US embassy.

But he said he would return to Moscow in the coming weeks"before any meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters that "that is absolutely the intention" for Sullivan to return to Russia after visiting his family and members of the new administration.

She said she was not aware of a meeting scheduled between Sullivan and Biden.

"He'll return to Moscow soon," she said.

Sullivan's return to Washington is coming at an "opportune time" as the administration formulates "a new approach to Moscow," State Department spokesman Ned Price told a briefing.

"This is a good time for the ambassador to come back to undertake those consultations."

Last Thursday, Washington imposed new sanctions on Russia for alleged malign activity, including interfering in last year's US election, cyber hacking and bullying neighbouring Ukraine.

It has also warned Russia of "consequences" if Alexei Navalny, an opposition politician on hunger strike in prison, were to die.

Moscow retaliated with sanctions against the United States, and has rejected what it sees as foreign interference in the Navalny case.