RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin said trust between his country and the US has eroded since Donald Trump took office.
As Moscow delivered a hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria, Mr Putin indicated the relationship between the two powerhouses was anything but rosy.
“One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated,” Putin said in an interview.
Mr Putin also doubled down on Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad’s government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad’s enemies.
Any hope in Russia the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new US leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow’s ally for its suspected use of poison gas.
Mr Putin’s comments come as Mr Tillerson began his meeting with the Russian leader in the Kremlin yesterday.
He had earlier met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for around three hours.
The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm if Mr Putin would meet Mr Tillerson.
In opening remarks in front of reporters, Mr Lavrov greeted Mr Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.
He also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office — a point of sensitivity in Washington. One of Mr Lavrov’s deputies was even more undiplomatic.
Mr Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was “to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be”.
Moscow’s hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed his US counterpart as a strong figure.
The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad’s use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.
Meanwhile Mr Trump admitted things weren’t great with Russia from the US side either.
Mr Trump said relations between the two countries “may be at an all- time low” as he moved ever further away from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.
“Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Mr Trump said flatly during a White House news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Soltenberg. “We may be at an all time low.”
Mr Trump said Mr Tillerson had completed a successful meeting with Mr Putin, where “things went pretty well.”
But he said it was an open question where relations go from here. He said “it would be a fantastic thing” if the two nations got along better but cautioned that “it may be just the opposite.”
When asked if Syria could have launched the chemical weapons attack with Russia’s advance knowledge, Mr Trump said it was “certainly possible” though “probably unlikely.”
The less-than-positive assessments of relations by Mr Trump and Mr Tillerson reflected the former Cold War foes’ inability to forge greater co-operation, as Trump until recently has advocated.
The Moscow news conference came after Mr Putin met Mr Tillerson for the first time since Mr Trump took office.
The diplomats know each other well from Mr Tillerson’s days as Exxon Mobil CEO and Mr Putin had even honoured him with a friendship award.
Mr Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings and said working groups would be established to improve US-Russian ties and identify problems.
He said the two sides would also discuss disagreements on Syria and how to end the country’s six-year civil war.
But such hopes appeared optimistic as the diplomats outlined their sharply diverging views on Syria. Until the chemical attack, the Trump administration had sought to step back from the US position that Assad should leave power.
But Mr Tillerson repeated the administration’s new belief that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
Mr Tillerson said Syria’s government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict and suggested that possible war crimes charges could be levied against the Syrian leader.
Russia has never publicly acknowledged any such attacks by Assad’s forces and has tried for the past 18 months to help him expand his authority in Syria.
Mr Putin’s decision to host Tillerson signalled Moscow’s intent to maintain communication with the US even as the countries bash each other publicly in louder and louder tones.
The Recognition of Russia: A Climate of Mutual Distrust23:41
From the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 until the Roosevelt administration officially recognized the USSR in the first detente in 1933, American relations with the Soviet Union were mistrustful and hostile.
SOURCE: newsnow worldnews