Syria war: US-Russia ties worse under Trump, Putin says

Vladimir PutinImage copyright
EPA

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Vladimir Putin said the level of trust had particularly deteriorated on a military level

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said relations with the US have worsened since President Donald Trump took office in January.

He told Russian TV that trust between the two countries had particularly deteriorated “on the military level”.

The remarks were released as Russia’s foreign minister met his US counterpart in Moscow, amid rising tension over a suspected chemical attack in Syria.

The US has been urging Russia to end its support for the Syrian government.

But Russia has denounced US air strikes on a Syrian airbase, launched last week in response to the government’s attack on a rebel area in Idlib province.

Asked by Mir television about accusations that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, Mr Putin reaffirmed that Syria had given up its chemical stockpile.

Speaking about relations between Moscow and Washington, he added: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”


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Media captionRex Tillerson: Reign of Assad family coming to an end

The statement came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Ahead of the meeting in Moscow, Mr Lavrov said Russia had “a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous and contradictory ideas (…) coming from Washington”.

The US air strikes have led to confusion over US policy in Syria, with some officials suggesting a more aggressive stance against President Assad.

On Tuesday President Donald Trump said the priority remained defeating the Islamic jihadist group and that the US was “not going into” Syria’s civil war.

Mr Tillerson said he looked forward to a “candid” exchange so that the two countries could better define and narrow their differences.

Key ally

Mr Tillerson has warned that Russia risks becoming irrelevant in the Middle East because of its support for Mr Assad.

However, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says President Assad is Russia’s key military ally in the Middle East and Mr Tillerson may need to rethink his belief that he can weaken Moscow’s support for him.

The White House also says Russia has been trying to deflect blame for the chemical attack that killed 89 people.

US intelligence reports say the Syrian government used chemical weapons during air strikes on the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun that left 89 people dead.

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EPA

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The attack on Khan Sheikhoun left 89 people dead and dozens injured

Syria denies this and Moscow has instead blamed rebel forces, which it suggests were storing chemical weapons which were hit in the raids.

The UN Security Council is to vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution by the US, UK and France requiring the Syrian government to co-operate with an investigation into the chemical attack.

President Putin has also called for an independent UN investigation.

On Tuesday Mr Tillerson attended a G7 meeting in Italy aimed at hammering out a unified approach to Syria before he headed to Moscow.

But divisions arose as UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson proposed sanctions against Syrian and Russian military figures over the chemical attack.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said ministers wanted to engage with Russia and use its leverage over Mr Assad.

But Mr Tillerson won support over the US retaliatory strike on Syria, which he said was necessary to prevent chemical weapons falling into the hands of jihadist groups.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The Syrian military says the damage to the base was less than claimed by the US

Syria war: US-Russia ties worse under Trump, Putin says

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