Tillerson Stands Off with Putin

Tillerson Stands Off with Putin

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left for Moscow this week, the relationship between Russia and the United States was already strained. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin took over in 2000, the relationship between the two superpowers has continued to suffer. But this most recent dispute — the U.S. missile attack against a Syrian airport after Syria used chemical weapons to conduct a mass killing of women and children — has left the tattered fabric of this relationship hanging on by a string.
It probably came as some surprise to Putin to discover this week that his well-publicized bromance with President Trump was over. After all, Trump was the guy who gave Putin such high praise during the presidential campaign. In fact, there was enough mutual admiration going on between the two of them that the left launched a “Russian collusion” narrative.
Then, a week ago,Trump said, “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time. But we’re going to see what happens.”
It seems the end of the bromance was mutual. Putin has the same news to report from his camp in a recent TV interview. “You can say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military side, has not improved but most likely worsened” since last week’s U.S. airstrike in Syria, Putin said, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin.
Needless to say, for that reason, and a host of others, when Tillerson arrived in Moscow this week, there was nothing warm about his reception. He met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then, after Putin had kept him waiting several hours, Tillerson and Putin met for a couple of hours.
From the sound of it, they just got into a back-and-forth with Tillerson confronting them with their lies (such as the chemical weapons in Syria), followed by their insistence that they were not lying. They spent a lot of time throwing barbs over Ukraine and Syria.
One thing that didn’t come up in the meeting was a reduction of sanctions on Russia. Tillerson said, if anything, Congress would want to increase the sanctions.
In regard to the Syrian situation, Tillerson apparently pressed the Russians to admit they were involved in the massacre with chemical weapons, or at least admit that they knew about it beforehand. Lavrov argued back that there is no proof that the Syrians even dropped chemical weapons. He accused the U.S. of conducting an “illegitimate” missile strike on a Syrian airport believed to be part of the chemical weapons launch.
When their meetings were over, Tillerson did stand with Lavrov for the obligatory hand-shake picture, but there was definitely no one saying “cheese.”
It seems the most that came from the meetings was an agreement that Lavrov referred to as “a pragmatic conversation about the irritants, so to speak, that have piled up in our relationship under the Obama administration.”
Tillerson’s objective for these meetings was to deliver an ultimatum to the Russians — end your support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and join the U.S. and its allies in ridding the world of ISIS, or side with Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah. Period.
There’s no telling what the Russians thought about Tillerson. But they can’t ever claim that he’s just the same old politician-type. Tillerson is much different from the guys we traditionally send. He’s big, serious and formidable. And, he’s no politician. He was instead (CEO) of ExxonMobil, the seventh largest company in the world. If that didn’t impress the Russians, nothing will.