America’s defence minister has said that the US was not in a position “right now” for military collaboration with Russia - a blow to those in Moscow who may wish for a speedy strategic realignment following the election of Donald Trump.
Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, US defence secretary Jim Mattis said Washington would continue to engage politically with Russia, in an effort to try and find areas of agreement. But in words that appeared to put an end to the prospect of the two countries working more closely to battle Isis in Syria, he said military cooperation was not yet possible.
“We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level,” he said, according to Reuters. “But our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground.”
The US stopped military-to-military relations with Russia in the wake of the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. During the election campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin and suggested the two countries may be able to work together against Isis.
At the moment, the US and Russia military communicate in Syria about air sorties, to avoid mid-air collisions, but do not cooperate further than that.
Mr Putin on Thursday called for increased intelligence cooperation with the US and NATO.
“It's in everyone’s interest to resume dialogue between the intelligence agencies of the United States and other members of NATO,” Mr Putin said, addressing Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
“It’s absolutely clear that in the area of counter-terrorism all relevant governments and international groups should work together.”
In Brussels, the Russian defiance minister, Sergei Shoigu, also expressed a willingness to resume cooperation with the Pentagon.
But Russia’s proposals come at a fraught time for the US administration. Mr Trump was obliged to get rid of his national security advisor after it emerged he had lied about the content of a call he made to a Russian diplomat.
Meanwhile, senior Democrats have called for an independent inquiry into what links Mr Trump may or may not have to Russia.
This comes against a backdrop of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election to try and benefit Mr Trump. Mr Trump has repeatedly downplayed US intelligence claims of Russian interference, and claimed he and his administration are the victims of illegal leaks and “fake news”.
As it was Mr Mattis, had little problem saying he believed Moscow had tried to interfere in the election.
“Right now, I would just say there's very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies,” he said,
He reportedly told a closed-door session of NATO on Wednesday that the alliance needed to be realistic about the chances of restoring a cooperative relationship with Moscow and ensure its diplomats could “negotiate from a position of strength”.
That prompted a terse reply from Mr Shoigu. “Attempts to build a dialogue with Russia from a position of strength would be futile,” Mr Shoigu was quoted as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency.
Mr Mattis replied: “I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. NATO has always stood for military strength and protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children.”
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