• ‘ What kind of cooperation can there be? ’ Russian analyst asks
  • White House tells relations can improve if Russia take steps

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump invited Vladimir Putin to meet — maybe even at the White House. After U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria, the two nations' officials can't get into the same room without insulting each other.

Speaking at situations of emergency conference of the United Nations Security Council Saturday, hours after the U.S ., France and the U.K. launched missiles intended to take out Syria's chemical weapons ability, American Ambassador Nikki Haley called on Russia — the main backer of the Syrian regime –” to take a hard look at the company it maintains .” Her Russian equivalent Vassily Nebenzia retorted that the U.S. and its allies were engaged in the” diplomacy of myth-making .”

For the moment, the angry rhetoric isn't scaring financial markets. Petroleum fell Monday from its highest close in three years in New York amid speculation that U.S.-led military intervention in Syria won't go beyond the weekend's missile ten-strikes. The ruble held steady against the dollar as senior officials declared the worst of the crisis over.

But the strikes against the regime of Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad set an exclamation point on how swiftly ties between the former Cold War foes have deteriorated in recent weeks, with President Trump even overcoming his past unwillingness to blame President Putin by name.

Now, the U.S.-Russia relationship, already under severe stres over issues from Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential campaign to its role in Syria and Ukraine, may be irretrievably transgressed for the foreseeable future. There may be too much bad blood, too much suspicion and too much anger on both sides to turn the animosity around.

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” I don't see things getting better ,” said Boris Zilberman, deputy director of congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and a Russia expert.” We're at a very low phase and clearly the administration's position on Russia has hardened .”

The result has been an unprecedented wave of retaliations and tit-for-tat actions. After the U.K. blamed Russia for the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, more than 150 Russian diplomats were expelled by the U.K. and allies including the U.S. The Trump administration followed with new sanctions on Russian oligarchs including billionaire aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska. His company lost half its value in a day after the sanctions were announced.

Haley raised the prospect of still more sanctions on Russia, saying Sunday on CBS's” Face the Nation” that a fresh round of penalties would” go immediately to any kinds of companies that were dealing with equipment” related to Assad and his chemical weapons.

While for now no significant new U.S. sanctions seem likely –limiting Russian market loss after last week's sharp deteriorations — in Moscow, lawmakers are starting Monday to discuss a draft bills with counter-measures against the U.S.

” What kind of cooperation can there be? Where ?” asked Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who advises the Kremlin. Russia get” new sanctions and threats every week ,” he told.” Americans believe that you can humble and put pressure everywhere and at the same time offer cooperation where they need it. This does not happen .”

Trading Accusations

The two countries routinely accuse each other of fabricating events, as they did during the Cold War.

The U.S. says Russia is blocking investigators from the site of the chemical attack that prompted the latest airstrikes. Russia has argued both that the two attacks in the Syrian city of Douma never happened or that it was orchestrated by the U.S. and its allies to provoke a military response.

” Americans need to understand that the wars of the future will look more like this: Russia is investing significant resources to create propaganda and disinformation ,” told Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, after Russia claimed that almost all the missiles fired into Syria were shot down — an affirm the U.S. denied.” Our enemies will work to create confusion and distrust among Americans here at home .”

What limited cooperation there was between the two countries has ground to a halt. A November agreement between the two sides to press all parties in Syria toward negotiations known as the Geneva process has stalled and they have abandoned plans for more” de-escalation zones” to ease the violence. Instead, Russia is attempting to create such zones with Turkey and Iran.

White House Hopes

From the White House, there is still hope that Russia will change its posture, and Trump's informal invitation for an eventual meeting with Putin hasn't been rescinded.

” After his last bellow with President Putin on March 20, the president confirmed that the two had discussed a bilateral session at a number of potential venues, including the White House ,” Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement Sunday night.” The desire for a meeting still stands, as the president believes a better relationship with Russia is in our mutual interest. That said, the president has been consistent and tough on Russia .”

” While we would like to work with Russia, we also recognize that an improved relationship will require the Russian government to take positive move, and the president will continue to hold them accountable for malign activities ,” Palladino said.

Spurning Meetings

In the meantime, though, routine diplomacy has given route to pettiness. Russia's ambassador to the U.S ., Anatoly Antonov, can't get sessions with top officials and had asked for help from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch to do so, Politico reported last month.

Trump, previously reluctant to criticize Putin directly even as others in his government have done so, has dropped any such restraint. When he announced his plan for the strikes against Syria on Friday night, he told Russia” must decide if it will continue down this dark route or if it will join with civilized nations as a force-out for stability and peace .”

Valery Solovei, a political scientist at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, which trains Russia's envoys, said ” I think, yes, “its the end”. And not only in Syria, but also in all spheres of Russian-American relations. Some well-informed sources say Putin is furious and plans to put more hardliners in important stances during an upcoming reshuffle in his government and government .”

The biggest anxiety on either side — of a hot conflict between the two nuclear-armed challengers — appears to have been eased for now given the limited nature of the most recent ten-strikes in Syria and the use of U.S.-Russian “deconfliction” channels before the attack to make certain their aircrafts weren't in the same airspace. But the risk of close calls — and potentially lethal conflicts — remains.

‘Met Their Match'

That was glaringly obvious in early February when U.S. forces-out killed more than 200 Russian mercenaries who tried to attack a base held a total of U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces-out in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region. The Russian and U.S. militaries both speedily sought to defuse the situation by assuring one another that the mercenaries' assault wasn't authorized by Moscow.

” The Russians gratified their match and a couple hundred Russians were killed ,” Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo told at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state last week. He said he takes” a back seat to no one” in his view of security threats that Russia presents to the U.S.

Nonetheless, there are signs that the two sides, amid the standoff, haven't wholly cut off ties, a thin possibility that the U.S. sanctions, the heated rhetoric and the Russian accusations of U.S. mendacity mask a desire to get along.

” Russia's position was take into consideration ,” told Elena Suponina, a Middle East specialist at the Russian Institute for Strategic Survey.” No red lines were crossed .”

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