The Russian authorities have quietly confirmed today what we said previously: the hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria is still suspended despite previous claims that the Russians had agreed to reinstate it.
This comes shortly after the tripartite conference of the Russian, Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers in Moscow, at which they all three warned the US against launching any further strikes against the Syrian military.
The question of the reinstatement of the hotline is highly sensitive because of the extent to which its suspension is interfering with the US conduct of its operations in Syria against ISIS. I have discussed this previously at length.
The subject of the reinstatement of the hotline was undoubtedly a primary topic of the discussions between Russian President Putin and US Secretary of State Tillerson in Moscow a few days ago. The sensitivity of this issue – and the possibly fraught nature of this meeting, which may have been a great deal less easy than some media reports have been suggesting – is indicated by a very remarkable thing. This is that the Kremlin has failed to publish a summary of the meeting on its website.
The Kremlin does from time to time fail to publish summaries of Putin’s meetings or conversations with foreign leaders. Summaries of Putin’s conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping – which are known to be frequent and to happen on a regular basis – are for example scarcely ever published.
However I cannot recall an occasion when the Kremlin has failed to publish an account or summary of a meeting between Putin and a top US official, especially after the fact of the meeting has been made public in the Russian media. Where the US diplomat in question is no less a person than the US Secretary of State, I believe I am right in saying that it is unprecedented.
This suggests that the discussions between Putin and Tillerson – which are said to have lasted for an extraordinary 2 hours – were especially sensitive and tough, with hard words exchanged, and that Putin said things to Tillerson which he does not want the world to know about, presumably in order to avoid escalating what is already a very fraught international situation.