The top military commanders from the US and Russia today held their first meeting since Donald Trump became president, as Moscow warned Washington against trying any strongarm tactics.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford held talks with his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, as both sides have mooted potential cooperation against Islamic State jihadists.
Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that the two generals “exchanged opinions regarding the condition of Russian-American relations” and on the security situation around the globe.
They also determined areas for cooperation in “increasing the security of military activity, decreasing tensions and the risks of accidents,” the statement said.
Relations between Russia and the US have slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine, and military ties are limited to a system aimed at avoiding clashes in the air over Syria.
Trump has repeatedly held out the prospect of cooperating with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State group, a goal that the Kremlin has long been pushing for.
The United States insisted, however, that today’s meeting between the military bosses was not political in nature and had been planned for months.
The talks took place as Trump’s administration battles to fend off reports that aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence during the presidential campaign last year.
Ahead of the meeting, Russia’s defence minister also hit out at Washington with a warning not to try to negotiate with Moscow “from a position of strength”
“We are ready to restore cooperation with the Pentagon,” minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement.
“But attempts to build a dialogue from a position of strength in relation to Russia have no prospects.”
Shoigu was responding to a comment to NATO by new Pentagon chief James Mattis yesterday in which he said Washington wanted to make sure its diplomats had the upper hand in any talks with Russia.
“We remain open to opportunities to restore a cooperative relationship with Moscow, while being realistic in our expectations and ensuring our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength,” Mattis said in Brussels.