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Trump To Meet With Russian Foreign Minister


President Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey has raised questions, including from some Republicans, about the future of an investigation. Comey was leading it. He was looking into whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia during last year's election. Now, today, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to meet with the president at the White House. This will be Lavrov's first visit to Washington in almost four years, which says a great deal about U.S.-Russian relations. Let's turn to NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

Well, Lucian, good morning.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what is the reaction there to the Comey's firing?

KIM: Well, understandably maybe, James Comey is not really a household name here in Russia. But the government line has always been very clear and consistent, you know. All these accusations of Russian meddling - that's a domestic American issue. We don't meddle in other people's elections, and it's basically an invention of the Democrats, who are sore losers. In fact, it's very similar to the Trump administration line.

As far as Comey's resignation - well, this morning, state television actually poked fun at him. He said by playing the good cop, he had ended up outsmarting himself. And the funniest reaction I saw was by a Russian senator named Alexey Pushkov. He tweeted that Comey was surprised because he was too busy investigating the so-called Russian threat that he didn't even know about his own resignation.

GREENE: (Laughter) His firing, I guess. He was - it happened as he was giving a speech to FBI employees in Los Angeles. It did seem to catch him by surprise. It's always great to watch reaction in Moscow to news in the United States.

KIM: Oh and state TV really loved the fact that he was in LA. That's how they also started their segment on that.

GREENE: Telling that story of that surprise.

Well, let's turn to this meeting now between the foreign minister, Lavrov, and President Trump. What has kept Lavrov away from Washington for so long?

KIM: Well, I mean, the very, very short answer is poor relations. I mean, the Obama administration really held back Russian officials at arm's length. The last time, as you mentioned, that Lavrov was in D.C. was in August 2013. He actually came with the Russian defense minister, showing you, you know, how far we've traveled from there because just a half a year later, Russia annexed Crimea. The U.S. imposed sanctions as a punishment for that. And after that, Obama really went out of his way to avoid his counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

And although Lavrov - Foreign Minister Lavrov did meet then-Secretary of State John Kerry, that was mostly in Europe, and they were very focused on finding a solution to Syria. What's interesting about this meeting coming up today is it was actually supposed to take place in Fairbanks, Alaska...


KIM: ...For a meeting of the Arctic Council. And the fact that it's being moved is really being played up here. It's a big thing for Russia.

GREENE: You know, when you and I spoke several days ago, you said something really interesting - that Russia and Vladimir Putin are seen as one of the most stable governments - Putin being one of the most stable leaders in Europe - and that a lot of European countries are feeling the need to reach out to him. I wonder what we're looking for today when it comes from the Russian side and the U.S. side. I mean, Lavrov is officially, on the agenda, is to meet with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. But what is going on here?

KIM: Well, just very briefly - I mean, the top of the agenda is Syria, especially when you look at Russian state media. Russia has really seized the initiative. They've created these safe zones in Syria, and they actually want the U.S. to get on board with that. Other issues are the conflict in Ukraine. And Russia is also really interested in getting back to diplomatic properties it lost back in December when the Obama administration imposed additional sanctions.

GREENE: All right - a lot of intrigue as Russia's foreign minister visits Washington today. NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

Lucian, thanks as always.

KIM: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.