Russia, U.S. could resume communicating about Syria strikes, ambassador says

WASHINGTON — Russia could resume direct communication with the U.S. military about operations in Syria as long as both countries “continue the same fight — and not a different one,” Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak said Tuesday.
Both the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement in October 2015 about how each country’s aircraft should interact in Syrian airspace. But Russia pulled out of the agreement on April 6 after the U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack against civilians reportedly carried out by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In an exclusive interview with Military Times, Kislyak said he hopes that Russia and the U.S. can reopen the deconfliction channel.

“One has to remember why the deconfliction agreement was arrived at in the first place, because we understood that each of us were doing an important fight against terrorism in Syria,” Kislyak said at the Russian embassy. “In order for this to continue, we need to be sure that we continue the same fight — and not a different one.”

The six-year Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands, wrecked Syria and sent a wave of refugees fleeing within and outside the country. Russia — along with Iran — is one of a handful of countries openly supporting Assad.

Kislyak spoke on Tuesday after an annual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery marking the anniversary of Elbe Day, when American and Soviet troops met at Germany’s Elbe River in 1945. The date signals the partition of Germany and marks an important milestone toward the defeat of the Nazi regime.

In contrast to the unity both countries showed during World War II, the current state of relations between Russia and the U.S. is “deplorable” Kislyak said.

Although President Trump said on April 12 that relations between Russia and the U.S. “may be at an all-time low,” Kislyak stopped just short of that.

“Maybe it’s the lowest point since the end of the Cold War,” Kislyak said. “We believe that it’s not because of Russian policies.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Kislyak laid a wreath at the Elbe Marker at Arlington National Cemetery. He said afterward that events such as Elbe Day show that cordiality between the two countries is possible.

“That gives me hope that even with the current difficult period in Russian-American relations, we will find a better way of cooperating and fighting the challenges that are common to you and to us,” he said.