After weeks of delay caused by intense political and bureaucratic resistance in Washington, and with the Trump administration still not fully formed, the first high level meetings took place today between officials of the Russian government and the new Trump administration.
The meeting that has attracted the most attention is inevitably the meeting in Bonn, Germany between US Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. However possibly the more important meeting is the one in Baku, Azerbaijan between General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian military’s General Staff.
There is inevitably very little information about the Dunford-Gerasimov meeting. The US Department of Defense statement announcing the meeting merely states, rather blandly
The chairman and Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valeriy Gerasimov will discuss a variety of issues……including the current state of U.S.-Russian military relations and the importance of consistent and clear military-to-military communication to prevent miscalculation and potential crises.
Dunford’s meeting with Gerasimov however represents the first direct meeting between the two senior officers of the world’s two greatest military powers for some time. In an interview for Politico back in October Dunford disclosed that the initiative for the meeting had come from him, and that he had been pressing for a meeting with Gerasimov for months
I think it’s absolutely critical that we do that. I’m a believer in keeping lines of communication open no matter what. Even in the 1980s, we had a red phone, we talked to the Russians. So military-to-military communications, regardless of how difficult the relationship may be at a given time ought to be something that you can do…..from [the Russians’] nuclear enterprise modernization to their submarine warfare capabilities to their cruise missile development to their cyber capabilities to their space programs. I mean, for a nation that has demographic and economic challenges like Russia they have embarked on such a significant military modernization program. The degree to which it is sustainable is another discussion but you know, they have embarked and now developed and fielded and demonstrated very real military capabilities.
(bold italics added)
These comments, and the fact that Dunford made them to Politico in October, explain the reasons for the meeting.
It was in October – as The Duran reported (see here and here) but as the Western mainstream media has conspicuously avoided doing – that the US and Russian militaries faced off against each other in Syria, going head to head for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, with the US forced into a humiliating climbdown.
As General Dunford’s interview with Politico shows, he was clearly shocked by this development. The fact he told Politico in October that he had already been pressing for a meeting with Gerasimov “for months” (ie. before the face-off happened) however shows that he foresaw it happening before it actually happened.
Given the way events in Syria were unfolding throughout 2016, with the wild talk on the part of some in the Obama administration, the news media, and in the Hillary Clinton campaign about the US declaring a “no-fly zone” in Syria against Russian opposition, there is nothing surprising about this.
It is not therefore surprising that General Dunford has been seeking for some time permission from his political superiors to meet with his Russian counterpart. The reason the meeting has not happened sooner is almost certainly because of resistance from the anti-Russia hawks in the Obama administration including above all Dunford’s own boss, Obama’s hardline neocon Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Following the change in administration and the appointment as Defense Secretary of James Mattis – like Dunford a Marine General – Dunford has finally been given the green light, making it possible for the meeting with Gerasimov at last to take place. Judging by what Dunford said to Politico in October, and the Defense Department’s statement about the meeting, the purpose of the meeting will be to establish a ‘hot line’ between the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and the Russian General Staff in Moscow.
That will allow the uniformed military in both countries to start talking to each other.