Moscow unlikely to back down from Trump's pressure, says U.S. expert

By VnExpress    April 11, 2017 | 04:00 pm PT
Moscow unlikely to back down from Trump's pressure, says U.S. expert
U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. Photo by Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters
All eyes are on Tillerson's visit to Russia, nearly a week after the U.S. missile strike on Syria last week.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has begun his two-day visit to Moscow, a trip that was initially expected to highlight the White House's desire for better relations with Russia.

But expectations have shifted after President Trump launched missile strikes on a Syrian airbase last week, a move condemned by the Kremlin.

Michael Kofman, a military expert at the Washington D.C.-based Wilson Center, said Russia may start taking action after Tillerson's visit has concluded.

"Moscow is not likely to back down from pressure, especially when the adversary is so fresh politically and seems to have no coherent policy or strategy," Kofman said in an email interview with VnExpress.

"Russia will wait to see what comes of the upcoming meeting with Rex Tillerson, then likely being taking steps that indicate its resolve. The goal will be to prevent the U.S. from believing it can gain leverage over Russian foreign policy," he wrote in an email.

Kofman noted that officials in President Trump's administration have made contradictory statements about Syria after conducting an air raid on April 7, making the policy approach rather incoherent.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster have spoken about the need to change the regime in Syria, accusing Russia of complicity in the attack.

However, Secretary Tillerson has countered those statements by saying that the U.S. launch of missiles aimed at Syrian military base was only to prevent Assad's administration from using chemical weapons and that the Syrian people will decide the fate of Assad's regime.

"It seems the Trump's administration is using the attack as a gambit to see if it can get concessions out of Russia, but the entire affair is a dubious proposition on the basis of 59 cruise missiles," Kofman said. "Right now it promises to scuttle the atmospherics of Rex Tillerson's meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, and could lead to an outright crisis between the two countries".

The whole world is now holding its breath to see the outcome of Tillerson's visit. But the question is not as much about whether he could reach an agreement on Syria, but whether he can even start any sort of dialogue at all.

Tillerson was not scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit, the Kremlin said Monday, a move that could point to tensions. It may also suggest that Tillerson will instead follow strict diplomatic protocol and only meet his direct counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia, along with Iran, is Assad's primary backer, and its intervention in Syria's war has been crucial to ensuring his grip on power, although no longer over the entire country.

Tillerson has earlier blamed Russian inaction for helping fuel the chemical weapons attack last week which killed more than 80 civilians, saying Moscow had failed to carry out a 2013 agreement to secure and destroy chemical weapons in Syria, Reuters reported.

Tillerson has aslo said while he had not seen hard evidence that Russia knew ahead of time about the attack, he planned to urge Moscow to rethink its support for Assad during his forthcoming visit.

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