When Russian President Vladimir Putin got word that U.S. cruise missiles were going to strike his Syrian ally early on Friday morning, he had several options – both military and diplomatic – for firing back.
He could have used Russia’s air defense systems in Syria to shoot the American rockets out of the sky. As a rebuke to the Americans, he could also have cancelled his meeting next week with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But he did neither.
Reading between the lines of Russia’s initial response, at least in the hours following the first targeted U.S. strike against the Syrian military, it seems that Putin is choosing to step back, bide his time and leave plenty of room to smooth things over. In Moscow’s diplomatic circles, there is even hope that Tillerson’s visit on Tuesday could still mark the start of some grand bargain – if not exactly a love affair – between Putin and President Donald Trump.
“This is not going to be pillow talk between two newlyweds,” says the Russian lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov, who chairs a parliamentary committee on integration with Russian allies. “It’s a conversation between two people who want something from one another, and we are both ready to back away on this issue for the sake of achieving other goals later on.” Speaking by phone from Moscow, he added: “Russia understands that nobody needs escalation.”
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