Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow today, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a two-hour meeting followed by a protracted press briefing involving both Tillerson and Lavrov, who continued to emphasize their differences on policy.
The tone of the conference was polite, with both sides emphasizing current problems with bilateral relations and the need to improve on the current “low point,” but in addressing questions from reporters, the answers almost exclusively needled the other side, underscoring how deeply divided the nations are.
Tillerson continued to hype accusations of a Syrian “gas attack” last week, though he admitted when pressed that his repeated accusations of Russian involvement or at least complicity in the incident weren’t based on any “firm” information that the US possesses.
On top of that, Tillerson complained of Syria’s use of cluster bombs in the civil war, arguing they are “designed to maim.” The US, of course, also has rejected the global cluster munition ban, and has routinely used them in their various wars.
But the most tense moment was likely the talk of interference in the 2016 US elections, with Tillerson insisting that Russia had done so, and that more sanctions might be warranted. Lavrov fired back that the allegations were slanderous, and pushed for actual evidence.
The demand for evidence of US accusations was a big talking point for Lavrov, who urged an impartial, international investigation into the putative gas attack, instead of just drawing conclusions and reacting before the information is all in.
Lavrov went on to criticize the US impulse to impose regime change in general, citing a long list of US failures dating back to Serbia, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the NATO regime change in Libya, and culminating with the establishment of, and virtually immediate collapse of, South Sudan.