Ties with US have eroded under Trump, says Putin

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of their bilateral meeting in Moscow yesterday, which got off to a rather icy start.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of their bilateral meeting in Moscow yesterday, which got off to a rather icy start.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Russian President's comments come as top US diplomat visits

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new US leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow's ally for its suspected use of poison gas, reported Reuters.

Underlining the tensions, Mr Trump yesterday said the Russian President is partly to blame for the crisis in Syria and bears responsibility to help bring peace to the war-torn country, reported The New York Times.

"I really think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Russia to make sure that peace happens, because frankly, if Russia didn't go in and back this animal, we wouldn't have a problem right now," Mr Trump said, referring to Mr Putin's support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

INFLUENTIAL DAUGHTER

Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I'm sure she said: 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.'

MR ERIC TRUMP, on Ivanka influencing their father to take military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack.

"Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person, and I think it's very bad for Russia, I think it's very bad for mankind, it's very bad for this world," Mr Trump said during an interview with Fox Business that aired yesterday morning.

And in an interview broadcast on Russian television moments after Mr Tillerson sat down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an ornate hall yesterday, Mr Putin said of ties with the US: "One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated."

Mr Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Mr Assad, repeating denials that Mr Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Mr Assad's enemies.

Moments earlier, Mr Lavrov had greeted Mr Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.

"I won't hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Mr Lavrov said.

Mr Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was "to further clarify areas of sharp difference".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Tillerson met Mr Putin later in the day.

The Trump administration on Tuesday revealed intelligence that it said proved Syrian forces had carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack in the northern Idlib province that led to the US missile strike, the Washington Post reported. The administration further claimed that Russia had advance knowledge of the chemical strike - an assertion that Moscow denied.

Mr Putin derisively compared the current situation in Syria to the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, when US officials insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction over the objections of international investigators, reported The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council was set to vote yesterday on a resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation into the attack - a measure that Russia will likely veto, diplomats said, reported Agence France-Presse.

Separately, Mr Trump's son, Eric, has said he was sure his elder sister Ivanka influenced their father to take military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack.

"Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I'm sure she said: 'Listen, this is horrible stuff'," Mr Eric Trump told The Telegraph newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Ties with US have eroded under Trump, says Putin'. Print Edition | Subscribe