- A delegation of Republican lawmakers met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday.
- The Moscow sit-down was arranged "realizing that we have a strained relationship when we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia," said Sen. Richard Shelby at the start of the discussion.
- Shelby told Lavrov he hoped that Trump's meeting with Putin could mark a turning point for relations between the two countries.
A group of Republican lawmakers met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday in hopes of mending the strained relations between the two countries.
The lawmakers' visit to Russia comes two weeks ahead of the planned July 16 summit in Helsinki, Finland, between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lavrov met with the group the same day he spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Trump-Putin meeting, as well as issues related to Syria and North Korea, where Pompeo is headed later this week.
The Moscow sit-down was arranged "realizing that we have a strained relationship when we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said to Lavrov at the start of the discussion, according to video footage taken by Radio Free Europe.
"We have some common interests," Shelby said. "We are competitors, but we don't necessarily need to be adversaries."
In addition to Shelby, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, the delegation included his fellow committee members John Kennedy of Louisiana, North Dakota's John Hoeven, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Montana's Steve Daines. Also in attendance: Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.
The delegation arrived in St. Petersburg on Saturday, according to Russian news agency Tass. They reportedly traveled to Moscow on Monday.
In a statement to CNBC, Daines said national security motivated the trip. We want to "personally assess the threats Russia poses, and what actions are necessary to keep our nation secure," he said.
None of the other lawmakers immediately responded to CNBC's requests for comment.
No Democrats attended the event. “We have nothing to do with it,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the appropriations committee’s ranking Democrat. Carle referred other questions to the attendees.
The Republican overtures to Russia dovetail with Trump's recent comments ahead of the Helsinki summit. Trump recently told reporters he planned to discuss a raft of contentious issues with Putin, including Russia's roles in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the issue of meddling during the 2016 election.
But while numerous U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered in the election in Trump's favor, Trump himself has been reluctant to accept their findings in full.
Last week, for instance, Trump appeared to cite Russia's denials about election meddling as further evidence of corruption and bias within U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Shelby made no mention of election meddling in his recorded remarks with Lavrov. He told the Kremlin official that he hoped Trump's meeting with Putin could mark a turning point for relations between the two countries.
The Helsinki meeting could mark "the beginning maybe of a new day," Shelby said. "We will have to wait and see."