U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow Wednesday, despite reports that the Kremlin leader had refused a face-to-face meeting with the top American diplomat, reveal various Russian state media outlets.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting US Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov at the Kremlin,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president, on Wednesday, without elaborating on what they would discuss.
“We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,” Peskov told reporters on Monday, dismissing the potential for such a meeting. He added that “returning to pseudo-attempts to resolve the crisis by repeating mantras that Assad must step down cannot help sort things out,” suggesting a meeting between Tillerson and Putin would be unproductive given the current political climate.
The revelation comes on the heels of Russian President Putin declaring that U.S.-Russian relations have worsened under American President Donald Trump’s watch.
“It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded,” President Putin told a Russian state television channel.
Before meeting with Putin, Tillerson held discussions with his counterpart Lavrov. Secretary Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, becoming first Trump official to visit Russia.
President Putin presented Secretary Tillerson with the Russian Order of Friendship award in 2013.
The unscheduled meeting between Tillerson and Putin comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over Syria.
Last week, President Trump ordered airstrikes on assets linked to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons in a rebel-held area in the northern part of the war-devastated country.
Since the U.S. airstrikes, U.S. and Russia have been trading barbs.
While the United States has accused Assad of carrying out the chemical attacks last week that killed as many as 100, including children, and wounded hundreds of others, Russia has defended the Syrian leader and deemed the U.S. strike an act of international aggression.
In a recent interview with Fox Business, President Trump described Assad as a “butcher” and “truly an evil man,” adding that the relationship between Russia and Syria is “bad for mankind.”
“Putin is backing a person [Assad] that’s truly an evil person. And I think it’s very bad for Russia. I think it’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world,” proclaimed Trump, adding, “I think aligning yourself [Putin] with Assad is a big mistake because he’s a butcher.”