A high-level U.S. delegation of Republican lawmakers will travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg soon, two members of the group have confirmed.
Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Richard Shelby of Alabama told CNN on June 22 that they will travel to Russia as part of a trip being arranged by the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman.
Senators Steve Daines of Montana and John Hoeven of North Dakota are also part of the confirmed group.
Shelby told CNN that “high-level meetings” are planned, although he did not provide specifics.
Kennedy said that "I hope we're going to get to meet with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."
“I want to be able to meet with government officials, try to establish some rapport, talk about common interests, talk about common problems," he added.
The exact timing of the trip was not disclosed, although The New York Daily News quoted a source as saying the delegation will arrive in St. Petersburg on June 30 before moving on to Moscow on July 3-4, celebrating U.S. Independence Day in the Russian capital.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is scheduled to travel to Russia on June 27 as a possible prelude to meetings between President Donald Trump and Putin next month.
The senators' confirmation of the trip came after Russian state news agency TASS reported that the visit was planned and listed Shelby, Kennedy, and Hoeven as participants.
TASS quoted Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying the visit is an "important signal" and will help improve the two countries’ relations.
Russia's relations with the West remain strained by its aggression in Ukraine, its role in the Syrian conflict, alleged interference in national election campaigns, and the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, which Britain blames on Moscow.
Kennedy said he intended to address some of these issues during the congressional visit to Russia.
"Now, I don't want to do anything to start an international incident, but I believe in talking frankly about these things," Kennedy said, specifically citing "serious allegations that Russia has interfered with not just our elections" but in European votes as well.
During his presidential campaign and into his presidency, Trump has consistently expressed desires for better relations with Russia and Putin in particular, despite opposition from Democrats and even many in his own Republican Party.
Trump on June 21 said he is considering a meeting with Putin in July, when he will be traveling to Britain and to a NATO summit in Brussels.