Wednesday April 12, 2017
Russia may not be the world’s superpower but its officials from President Vladimir Putin down know how to act statesmanlike. This was evident when Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow on April 11 for his first meeting with Russian officials after assuming the post of US Secretary of State in the Trump regime.
Given American belligerence, especially the illegal missile strike at a Syrian air force base on April 6 that killed 11 people including seven civilians, the Russians had made their displeasure well known.
Prior to arriving in Moscow, Tillerson had received the support of the G7 countries meeting in Italy for a “tough” stand against Syria and, therefore, Russia.
“I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” Tillerson said following the G7 meeting in Tuscan City of Lucca Italy). Even Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, adding her voice to the chorus, said: “Now I think is an opportunity for Russia to make that break and to use its influence with Assad to push the Assad regime to fairly participate in political negotiations that can bring peace to Syria.”
This must have raised howls of laughter in the Kremlin as Russian officials downed glasses of vodka in the still chilly Moscow evening.
While it is customary for visiting American Secretaries of State to meet the Russian president, this time, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov had announced on April 10 ahead of the American’s arrival that there was nothing in Putin’s schedule to meet Tillerson.
Today, however, Peskov held out the possibility of a meeting later in the day but he made clear any such meeting would depend on how Tillerson’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went. The latter had announced that he looked forward to clear explanations from his American counterpart.
The message was clear: behave or there will be no meeting with Putin that would be seen as a major snub in Washington especially for a person who has had long ties with Russian officials when he was ExxonMobil chief.
Tillerson was made to wait for much of the day today (it is already late evening in Moscow) and left wondering whether he would get to meet with Vladimir V. Putin.
Prior to receiving Tillerson in the Kremlin for the first face-to-face meeting, Putin had already rubbished the charge that American intelligence had found Asad’s government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. Putin accused the Trump regime of fabricating the evidence to create a fake confrontation.
“This reminds me very much of the events of 2003, when U.S. representatives in the Security Council showed alleged chemical weapons discovered in Iraq,” Putin said, referring to an intelligence failure that Trump himself has cited in recent months. “The exact same thing is happening now,” he charged.
He quoted two Russian writers, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, authors of the 1928 satire “The 12 Chairs,” and said, “ ‘It’s boring, ladies.’ We have seen this all before.”
If Putin was diplomatic and statesmanlike in his pronouncements even if forthright, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova was much more blunt. It is “useless” for Tillerson to arrive in Moscow with “ultimatums” and pointed out if he wanted any progress, he should start by getting Trump and his regime on the same page about Syria strategy.
“It is not clear what they will do in Syria and not only there,” she said on Dozhd, Russia’s independent television network. “Nobody understands what they will do in the Middle East because it is a very complicated region, forgive me for saying such a banal thing. Nobody understands what they will do with Iran, what they will do with Afghanistan.”
Then, to suggest this was a symptom of broader disarray and disorganization within the Trump regime, she added, “Nobody understands what they will do with North Korea.”
The message from Moscow to Washington was clear: get real. The days of dictating to other are over. And forget about demanding the removal of President Bashar al Asad from power.
The US has no right or authority to make such demands; it is for the Syrian people to decide. Washington’s warlords have just been slapped in the face, and tightly.
Whether the Americans will come to their senses is a different matter.