U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, returned on Saturday from his recent trip to Russia.
Shelby led a congressional delegation trip to Russia, which included meetings with high-level U.S. government and Russian officials. The eight member, all Republican, congressional delegation was led by Sen. Shelby.
“During a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the United States, I led a congressional delegation, the largest in many years, to Russia to meet with key leaders of the Russian government,” Shelby said. “Our goal was to have a sober assessment of our differences and to put the unvarnished truth on the table. We had candid discussions with the Foreign Minister, members of the Duma, and the Federation Council about a number of issues, including election interference, Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria. We were honest and frank in expressing our concerns and our shared belief that Russia must make changes in its behavior if our relationship is going to thaw.”
“The United States does not want, nor does it need, to resume a Cold War posture with Russia, and our delegation trip was a small step towards trying to ensure that does not happen,” Sen. Shelby continued. “We will always be competitors, but we do not have to be adversaries. Russia can achieve a better relationship with the U.S., but it has to be earned, one step at a time.”
\The group of congressional members also stopped to meet with officials in Finland and Norway.
The eight-member delegation struck a conciliatory tone with government officials over the course of the trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow, leading to criticism by some in Washington.
“Cannot believe GOP, once the party that stood strong against Soviets & only a decade ago sought to democratize the Middle East, is now surrendering so foolishly to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Kremlin’s kleptocracy — only two years after Russia interfered in U.S. election,” tweeted Clint Watts, an information warfare specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
President Donald J. Trump (R) is preparing to meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States imposed sanctions on Russia after Russia seized the Crimea from Ukraine and backed armed ethnic Russian militias that revolted against the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Fighting between Ukraine and the Russian backed militias in Eastern Ukraine has not stopped though the war has been locked in a stalemate for years.
Tensions between the Russian government and the West has grown in recent days. On Sunday, 44 year old British woman Dawn Sturgess died after handling an item contaminated with Novichok, a nerve agent manufactured by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Sturgess’s boyfriend remains in critical condition. British authorities claim that Novichok was used 12 kilometers away at Salisbury to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March. British Prime Minister Theresa May says that Sturgess’s death is being investigated as a murder. Russia has denied any involvement.
Richard Shelby is the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense.
(Original reporting by the Washington Post and The Guardian contributed to this report.)