Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is already aware that the relationship with Russia isn’t going well.
“Our relationship’s at an all-time low, and it’s been deteriorating further,” he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. “Our objective is to stabilize that.”
But it doesn’t help that the countries are on different sides of the Syria conflict.
Both Russia and the US say they’re fighting ISIS, but Moscow’s real goal is to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. Washington, meanwhile, has consistently attacked pro-Assad forces when they threaten US troops or members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militia aiming to defeat ISIS.
To be sure, Sunday’s downing of the Syrian jet in order to protect the SDF was the fourth time in a month that the US has struck pro-Assad forces, and the first time the US brought down a Syrian military plane since the war’s start. It looks like the US strategy in Syria is shifting to confront Assad more directly, which won’t make Russia happy.
These events come at a bad time for Trump, who has wanted a closer counterterrorism relationship with Russia. “We’re going to have a lot of great success over the coming years, and we want to get as many to fight terrorism as possible,” Trump said in a press conference last month, saying he wants Russia to join the official anti-ISIS fight.
But at least in the short term, it’s not looking like Trump will get his wish. Even members of Senate are making it harder, passing sanctions against Russia by a 98-2 margin (although it’s dealing with a procedural snag in the House right now).
Only the military equipment from both countries seem to be coming closer together. And that means some kind of military problem between the US and Russia, once unthinkable, is now a distinct possibility.