President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone today for the first time since U.S. air strikes hit Russia’s buddy Syria last month in retaliation for yet another sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians. There are no reports yet of what was discussed, although there is some speculation about what should have been be discussed.
But what is clear is that both Trump and Putin want the world to know they’re talking. Which is likely a good sign that a thaw is at least possible.
Following the last gas attack in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stared down the Russian Ambassadors and essentially let them know if Russia abdicated their responsibility to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in hand, the U.S. would fill the void.
And the U.S. lived up to that promise, waging an air strike shortly thereafter. This prompted the Kremlin to issue a statement saying the U.S. action “dealt a serious blow to Russian-US relations, which are already in a poor state.” It also in all probability led to Haley being asked to clear high-profile statements with the State Department before issuing them (Haley maintains that Trump had given her great leeway to speak her mind. Perhaps Putin and Trump talked about this?) For his part, Putin sounded hopeful at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I hope that we will achieve understanding on joint measures in this very important and very delicate area of international politics,” Putin said at a nationally broadcast news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with the Russian leader Tuesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Trump is being less public about the call. And, strategically speaking, that’s generally a good idea. If publicly slapping Haley’s wrist was a show of compromise to appease Putin, it’ll be interesting to hear what Putin offered in return. And, of course, the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump administration is still swimming just below the surface. We’ll know more soon.