The most important event of last week was US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, where he met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and then with President Putin. Ahead of the meetings the atmosphere in the media was tense as there were a lot of catchy headlines that Washington had accused Moscow of covering up Syrian government’s role in the recent chemical attack and delivered an ultimatum requiring that Russia make a choice between relations with the US and support for Assad. In practice, no US officials directly blamed the Kremlin for complicity, but by declassifying a four-page report on the attack the White House tried to dispose of the Russian arguments or “refute the false narratives” as it was stated in the document. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin said that the whole situation “strongly resembles” the events in 2003. That year an American representative showed a substance during the UN meeting insisting that it was chemical weapons found in Iraq and then Washington used it as a pretext for a full-scale invasion. Moreover, the Russian President once again called for checking all the facts through a thorough investigation and also claimed that Moscow has information from various sources that similar provocations aimed at undermining legitimacy of the Syrian government are being prepared in other regions of Syria. Later the week, on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “there is growing evidence that the attack was staged” and drew attention to “inconsistencies” in publications on it, including in the US and the UK media.
As for the meetings themselves, given the statements made by both parties ahead of the talks almost nobody expected any breakthrough results. Moscow and Washington offered different interpretation of many world events. However, some analysts were not so pessimistic about the negotiations pointing at some facts. First of all, President Putin decided to meet Mr.Tillerson (according to the media, the negotiations between them had not been arranged in advance) spending two hours in talks with him. Secondly, the parties agreed to create a bilateral working group of diplomats and experts, whose aim would be to address the existing differences. Thirdly, they agreed to reinstate a “deconfliction” channel in Syria. At least, the meetings can make clear who is making Russia policy in the US now since during the election campaign President Trump numerously expressed his intention to mend fences with the Kremlin but now finds himself under fire inside the country, which inevitably limits his room for maneuver.
Taking into account the situation around the chemical attack and future Montenegro’s NATO membership, last week many authors devoted their articles to the risks of the current escalation, including a possible war between the great powers. There were a lot of articles that called for restraint (e.g. “Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation”). Some western elites still cannot understand a simple realistic fact concerning Russia-West relations. It was clearly pointed at by former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton: “Threats of “isolation” and “penalties” make it harder not easier for such a proud country to go along with the west. The only way to get Russian help (which we certainly need in the case of Syria) is to approach them as a partner in a joint enterprise with joint benefits”.
By Peter B. Doran
The National Interest
Moscow moved in to call Obama’s bluff. But Trump is playing a different game.
By J. Robert Smith
The American Thinker
Last Friday, President Trump unleashed 59 Tomahawks on a Bashar al-Assad military air base. But has he unleashed the dogs of war, too?
By David E. Sanger
The New York Times
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for nearly two hours Wednesday, but the two men appeared unable to agree on the facts involving the deadly chemical weapons assault on Syrian civilians or Russian interference in the American election — much less move toward an improvement in basic relations.
By Nina L. Khrushcheva
With the bombing of an air base in western Syria, the Trump administration stepped into a gaping power vacuum in the Middle East. But what, if anything, will Trump do next?
By Thomas Grove
The Wall Street Journal
Foreign ministers from Russia, Syria and Iran presented a unified front in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, saying the U.S. and international accusations of a chemical strike by the regime in Damascus were fabrications.
By Michael J. Morell and Evelyn Farkas
The New York Times
But Mr. Tillerson should recognize that Russia’s involvement in Syria is only one example of the increasingly active, and disruptive, role that President Vladimir Putin has been playing on the world stage since Donald Trump’s inauguration.
By Peter Baker
The New York Times
Now, Mr. Trump is in a diplomatic clash with Mr. Putin’s Russia, his administration accusing Moscow of trying to cover up a Syrian chemical weapons attack on civilians and his secretary of state delivering us-or-them ultimatums.
By Nat Parry
Now that President Trump is bashing Russia, not resetting relations, the mainstream U.S. media has gone from pushing “Russia-gate” conspiracies to decrying doubts about U.S. government anti-Russia claims.
By Stephen F. Cohen
The US narratives for which there are as of yet no facts could lead to direct military conflict between Washington and Moscow.
By Mary Dejevsky
It’s significant that Rex Tillerson went ahead with his Moscow trip so soon after the air strikes in Syria. It’s equally significant that a meeting with Putin went ahead – and, for once, Putin did not keep his guest waiting.
By Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous
The Washington Post
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.
By Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins
GCHQ is said to have alerted US agencies after becoming aware of contacts in 2015.
By Emily Tamkin
Just one day before President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met in Washington, the North Atlantic alliance came one big step to gaining its first new member in eight years: Montenegro.
By Kathrin Hille and Henry Foy
The Financial Times
President’s authoritarianism has barred the rise of any challenger.
By Anna Arutunyan
Less than a year before Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks re-election, the biggest protest wave in five years is putting his popularity — and his control over political dissent — to the test.
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