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By Will Racke
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with Kremlin officials Tuesday in Moscow, but he won’t get any face time with Russia’s recalcitrant leader.
A Kremlin spokesman confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no plans to meet with Tillerson during his stay, Radio Free Europe reported.
“We have not announced any meetings, and so far there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s schedule,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Monday.
Tillerson is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Russia since President Donald Trump took office. He is scheduled for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov April 12.
The secretary’s trip comes as tensions between the U.S. and Russia have reached a post-Cold War high. Russia, already at odds with the West over its its military support of Ukrainian separatists and the Syrian government, has become further isolated in the wake of a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since that incident, Tillerson has publicly called for Russia to rethink its support of al-Assad and staked out a much tougher position against Putin’s actions in the Syrian conflict than the Trump administration had previously taken. He said Sunday that Russia bears responsibility for the chemical attack and any future atrocities against the Syrian opposition. (RELATED: Financial Powers Back Tillerson’s Tough Stance On Russia)
Many foreign policy observers expected Putin would meet with Tillerson on his first trip to Russia as secretary of state. They have close ties stemming from Tillerson’s tenure as CEO of ExxonMobil, which negotiated several oil deals in Russia, and Putin bestowed a top Russian state award — the Order of Friendship — on Tillerson in 2013.
Peskov did not elaborate on why Putin will not meet with Tillerson, other than to say the meeting will observe strict diplomatic protocol whereby a secretary of state meets with his counterpart, the foreign minister.
Russia has said that last week’s U.S. missile strike against the al-Assad regime shows that Washington is unwilling to negotiate on Syria, and Peskov told reporters on Monday that Russia has no plans to withdraw its support of al-Assad, Reuters reported.
“Returning to pseudo-attempts to resolve the crisis by repeating mantras that Assad must step down cannot help sort things out,” Peskov said.