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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the US embassy in Moscow, on Tuesday evening. Photo: Serguéi Lavrov/EFE
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the US embassy in Moscow, on Tuesday evening. Photo: Serguéi Lavrov/EFE

Tillerson Visits Moscow as Tensions over Syria Erupt

Russian president claims Assad’s opponents intend to carry out false-flag chemical attacks to justify more US strikes

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One of the most polemic issues surrounding  Rex Tillerson nomination for Secretary of State three months ago was his "friendly connections" with Russian president Vladimir Putin. But in politics scenarios change fast and today Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil  and a one-time recipient of the Russian Order of Friendship, arrives in Moscow amid seething tensions over the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Rex Tillerson is facing an icy day of talks in Moscow after the White House accused Russia of engaging in a cover-up of the Syrian government’s role in last week’s chemical weapons attack. The Kremlin has firmly denied the claim.

The U.S. also said that it had confirmed that the government of Bashar al-Assad had used sarin gas in the attack, an assault that has been condemned by the international community. 

Before traveling to Moscow, Rex Tillerson called on the Kremlin to drop its support of Mr. Assad. His remarks were made at his talks in Italy with G-7 foreign ministers. The summit was focused on how to stop Islamic terrorism and the war in Syria. 

 The secretary of state is seeking to leverage both international condemnation over the Syrian regime's alleged use of Sarin gas against civilians and President Donald Trump's recent display of American military might to weaken Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad.  However, G7 foreign ministers were divided over possible next steps and refused to back a British call for fresh sanctions.

And of course, Putin is not willing to change sides. 

The Russian President has deepened his support of the Syrian regime, claiming its opponents planned false-flag chemical weapon attacks to justify further US missile strikes.

The Russian president’s predictions on Tuesday of an escalation in the Syrian war involving more use of chemical weapons came as US officials provided further details of what they insist was a sarin attack by Bashar al-Assad’s forces against civilians on 4 April, and accused Moscow of a cover-up and possible complicity, as reported in The Guardian.

Putin said western and Turkish accusations that Syria’s government dropped the nerve agent that killed dozens of civilians in Idlib earlier this month were comparable to the now-discredited claim that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“It reminds me of the events in 2003 when US envoys to the security council were demonstrating what they said were chemical weapons found in Iraq,” the president told reporters on Tuesday. “We have seen it all already.”

Washington has played down expectations that the trip will produce any shift in Russian policy, saying only that it hopes to deliver a message, and leave Russia to consider its response.

The Russian foreign ministry released a  statement before Tillerson arrived in Moscow, noting that Russian-American relations were going through the “most difficult period since the end of the cold war”. It said the “long list of irritants that have arisen through Washington’s fault is not decreasing”. As reported in The Guardian.

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