Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defence, is not a man one wants to anger. He has held his position since 2012 and has been in charge of Russia’s biggest military operation since 1979, aiding Syria in her war against terrorism.
Unlike his US counterpart James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, Shoigu has held multiple governmental positions prior to assuming his current position including, Governor of Moscow Oblast, leader of the currently governing party United Russia, and Minister for Emergency Situations (EMERCOM).
It is fair to say that Shoigu understands the art of war as well as the art of the political deal. This helps one to understand his latest remarks directed towards the US where he stated:
“We are prepared to restore cooperation with the Pentagon….But attempts to establish a dialogue with Russia from a position of strength would be fruitless”.
Russia which is both militarily and geopolitically stronger that at any time since the Brezhnev era, is not going to be spoken to as a second rate power. Russia is once again a geopolitical superpower and the sooner those in the west understands that, the sooner a meaningful dialogue can take place. Whether anything can come of it is a separate issue.
Shoigu’s remarks came after James Mattis stated:
“We remain open to opportunities to restore a cooperative relationship with Moscow, while being realistic in our expectations and ensuring our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength”.
It’s clear that Russia would rather work with good dogs than mad dogs in this instance.
These exchanges between defense ministers come as Sergei Lavrov and Rex Tillerson meet face to face today at the G20 ministerial meeting in Bonn.
The meeting between veteran diplomat Lavrov and Tillerson seemed to go as well as it could, given the fact that Tillerson’s team is not yet in place.
Speaking of the meeting, Lavrov said that on the issues of global terrorism, Syria and the Ukraine issue, “…Our American colleagues said they’re interested in joining the efforts that are made to overcome those conflicts”.
Lavrov also confirmed that sanctions were not discussed, as indeed this is a fairly low priority for Russia whose economy has weathered the supposedly punitive economic restrictions without any meaningful problems. Domestic production is up and living standards remain high.
Tillerson described the meeting as ‘productive’ saying:
“The US will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people. Where we don’t see eye to eye, the US will stand up for the interest and values of America and her allies”.
Tillerson’s comments are more skeptical in tone than the more businesslike rhetoric of Lavrov, but on the whole, compared to previous diplomatic summits under the Obama administration, things seemed to be far more cordial.
Rather than the instant reconciliation one hoped for, the process of the Trump administration reaching a positive understanding with Russia will take a very long time indeed. We may not know till at least half way through 2017 if any progress is to be made.
Still, this is far preferable to the instant antagonism and provocation against Russia which would have been guaranteed under a Hillary Clinton regime.
For now, it is a matter of watching and waiting as well as hoping Trump is able to constrain those around him who want to continue ‘business as usual’ with Russia.