From the moment he stepped foot in the White House, President Donald Trump has been dogged by his perceived warming to Russia and his open admiration of President Vladimir Putin. But after the U.S.’ surprise strike last week on Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally, in retaliation for the regime’s chemical attack, Trump finds his administration in a major diplomatic dispute with Moscow.
On Wednesday, Putin and Trump traded barbs over the Kremlin’s continued support for Assad.
“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 of relations between the two nations in an interview Wednesday on Russian state TV.
In an interview aired the same day on Fox Business, Trump criticized Putin for his continued support of Assad, whom Trump called “evil” and “an animal.” Trump said Assad wouldn’t be a problem if not for Russia’s support.
Putin’s dim assessment of relations between the Kremlin and Trump’s administration came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat down Wednesday to discuss “areas of sharp difference” with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The day before, Tillerson had issued Moscow an ultimatum, saying it had to decide whether to side with the U.S. and its allies, or align itself with Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran. And U.S. officials had accused Russia of covering up Assad’s chemical weapons attack on civilians.
Putin responded by maintaining Moscow’s dubious defense that Damascus had given up its chemical weapons and that the deaths were either the result of Syrian government airstrikes hitting rebel stocks of chemical weapons, or a set-up to discredit Assad.
Further angering the U.S., Russia said Wednesday that a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on the Syrian government’s chemical attack last week was “unacceptable” in its current form and that it would veto the proposal.
After days of speculation over whether Putin and Tillerson would meet, the two ultimately did meet Wednesday, according to a Kremlin spokesperson.
Here’s what you need to know
- Putin has maintained his support for Assad despite increased pressure from the U.S. and its allies in the U.N.
- In his interview with Fox Business, Trump rebuked the Russian president for his continued support of Assad. “Frankly, Putin is backing a person that’s truly an evil person. If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, you wouldn’t have a problem right now.”
- Putin’s icy rhetoric was echoed by Lavrov in remarks made as he met with Tillerson to discuss Syria. He called the U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base “unlawful” and added that he was hoping to understand Washington’s “real intentions” in relation to Moscow. Lavrov said he had “a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous and contradictory ideas coming from Washington.”
- Tillerson, offering a bit more of a cordial outlook after Tuesday’s ultimatum, said he was hoping for a “very open, candid, and frank exchange” with Lavrov.
- The UN Security Council resolution that was put forward by the U.K., France, and the U.S. demanded that the Syrian government comply with an investigation into the chemical attacks. The vote, expected on Wednesday, is very unlikely to pass. “In its current form, this project is unacceptable for us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency. “We, of course, will not vote for it.”