Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Russia will “absolutely not” go back to the pre-war status quo, a senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday.

This official did not speak explicitly to the future of diplomatic relations with Russia, noting they were already strained prior to the war starting in February. They said US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan speaks less frequently with the Russian foreign ministry than before, but there is still contact on the issues of the US Embassy’s “staffing woes” and the detained Americans.

“That’s a frequent topic multiple times a week, on behalf of various detainees and not just the most high-profile ones, which are obviously Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, but there are other Americans who are detained there who deserve the same level of treatment as any American citizen does, who’s detained in a foreign country,” the official said.

The official also explained how challenging it is to work with the Russians on the issue of detained Americans, because the Russians put convoluted processes in place that prevent any quick contact with the detainees.

“Oh, well, we moved detainee X last week. He’s on the other side of Moscow and you’re gonna need a different form, in triplicate, but that but the office that issues it is closed until next Thursday. But if you come after five on Friday, then maybe we’ll take care of you, but only bring blue pens,” the official said, describing the kinds of hoops that the Russians make US officials jump through.

Sullivan has not “engaged on Ukraine policy with the Russian government since mid-February,” the official explained.

The official spoke of the commercial impact the war has had in Russia, noting that there were more than 1,000 US companies that did business in Russia last year and “it’s a fraction of that now.”

The official said the US ambassador had previously dealt a great deal with helping US businesses in Russia that had gotten in trouble over regulatory or potential criminal matters. They said Sullivan had “a lot of interaction” with the minister of Trade and Industry and they “developed a pretty good relationship.” The official said the outcomes weren’t often positive but “the issues were treated seriously and sometimes we got good outcomes, more often than not we didn’t, but that’s all stopped.”

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