Onus on Rus­sia: U.S.

De­fence sec­re­tary says Wash­ing­ton isn’t ready to col­lab­o­rate mil­i­tar­ily with Moscow


BRUSSELS — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­nalled Thurs­day there will be no change soon in U.S. Rus­sian re­la­tions, putting the onus on Moscow to prove it­self if it wants closer co-op­er­a­tion with Wash­ing­ton. Rus­sia’s sup­port for Ukrainian sep­a­ratists was un­der­scored as a test case of its will­ing­ness to change be­hav­iour.

At a NATO meet­ing in Brussels, Bel­gium, U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis made clear the U.S. isn’t ready to col­lab­o­rate mil­i­tar­ily with its for­mer Cold War foe against Is­lamic State or other threats, a long-stand­ing goal of the Krem­lin which U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says he wants, too. Af­ter meet­ing with Rus­sia’s top di­plo­mat in Ger­many, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Moscow first must help stop vi­o­lence in Ukraine.

The com­ments ap­peared to put the brakes on a rapid trans­for­ma­tion in U.S.-Rus­sian ties, which have been badly strained by fight­ing in Ukraine and Syria as well as by Amer­i­can ac­cu­sa­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Euro­pean coun­tries close to Rus­sia’s bor­der have been es­pe­cially alarmed by the prospects of U.S.-Rus­sian rap­proche­ment, given Trump’s ref­er­ences to NATO as “ob­so­lete” and his re­peated praise for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“Rus­sia is go­ing to have to prove it­self first,” Mat­tis said. Na­tions will seek “a way for­ward where Rus­sia, liv­ing up to its com­mit­ments, will re­turn to a part­ner­ship of sorts here with NATO,” he ex­plained.

But he made clear that a sig­nif­i­cant at­ti­tude change is re­quired by lead­ers in Moscow, declar­ing that there is “very lit­tle doubt that they have ei­ther in­ter­fered or they have at­tempted to in­ter­fere in a num­ber of elec­tions in the democ­ra­cies.”

While Mat­tis ad­dressed re­porters, Tiller­son met with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov in the for­mer West Ger­many cap­i­tal of Bonn and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair­man, sat down with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, Gen. Valery Gerasi­mov, in the for­mer Soviet repub­lic of Azer­bai­jan. They rep­re­sented the first meet­ings be­tween the two coun­tries’ top diplo­mats and mil­i­tary men since Trump was sworn in.

Tiller­son, a for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO with long ex­pe­ri­ence in Rus­sia, hav­ing even been awarded a friend­ship medal by Putin, em­pha­sized that Rus­sia must abide by a 2015 deal aimed at end­ing fight­ing be­tween Ukrainian forces and Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratists. “As we search for new com­mon ground, we ex­pect Rus­sia to hon­our its com­mit­ments,” he said.

Lavrov said in re­marks broad­cast live by Rus­sian TV that dur­ing the meet­ing the par­ties con­firmed a shared in­ter­est in pool­ing ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism. He cred­ited Tiller­son for hav­ing “voiced readi­ness to sup­port” a Rus­sian-led process to end Syria’s civil war.

“Nat­u­rally we couldn’t solve all the prob­lems,” Lavrov said. “But we have a shared un­der­stand­ing that on is­sues where our in­ter­ests co­in­cide, and there quite a few of them, we should move for­ward.”

He said U.S. sanc­tions on Rus­sia weren’t ad­dressed. The mat­ter is ex­tremely sen­si­tive, given Trump’s fir­ing early this week of his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, over his dis­cus­sions about sanc­tions with a Rus­sian am­bas­sador be­fore Trump took of­fice. The U.S. im­posed penal­ties on Moscow af­ter its 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion.


U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fence Jim Mat­tis, right, speaks with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg dur­ing a meet­ing at NATO head­quar­ters in Brussels, Bel­gium, on Thurs­day.

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