Russian President Vladimir Putin does not intend to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when the top U.S. diplomat arrives in Moscow this week, according to Putin’s spokesman.
“We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday, per Reuters.
Tillerson’s Moscow trip has been one of the most-anticipated foreign policy events of the young Trump administration, given President Trump’s stated interest in rapprochement with Russia following heightened tensions during former President Obama‘s tenure. But Trump’s authorization of a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime as retribution for a chemical weapons attack has spoiled the run-up to the trip, from the perspective of Assad’s Russian supporters.
Putin’s team, in a joint statement with Iranian leaders, promised to defend Syria from any future U.S. strikes. “What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines,” the two governments said in a joint statement. “From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.”
That threat follows a warning from the Trump administration that the U.S. military is “prepared to do more” if Russia can’t stop Assad from using chemical weapons. “It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said during a Friday meeting of the Security Council.
Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet to discuss a range of issues, from counterterrorism cooperation to the conflict in Ukraine. Lavrov said he hopes the conversations will help lead to an easing of the western sanctions imposed following the Russian annexation of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine, in addition to trying to build on their efforts in Syria to become a power broker in North Africa.
“We have a positive view of the willingness expressed by the new U.S. leadership to improve the situation, but we are proceeding based on the idea that actions speak louder than words,” Lavrov’s preview of the meetings said. “We look forward to this visit by the new U.S. secretary of state helping set Russia-U.S. relations on a trajectory of sustainable development, and improving the level of mutual understanding.”
Putin’s recusal from the foreign policy meetings, though not a technical violation of diplomatic protocol, appears to be another example of diplomatic retaliation over the Syria crisis. It hasn’t been one-directional. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson canceled a trip to Moscow, a decision that prompted mockery from the Russian government.
“The decision to call off Boris Johnson’s visit to Moscow proves yet again the questionable added value of talking to the UK who lacks an independent position on most present-day issues or actual leverage on international affairs, remaining in the shadow of its strategic partners,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Sunday comment. “Russia does not feel that it needs dialogue with London any more than London does.”
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner