Joint Chiefs chairman to meet with Russian counterpart

Joint Chiefs chairman to meet with Russian counterpart
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The top general in the U.S. military will meet with his Russian counterpart Thursday in Azerbaijan, the first meeting between the two since military cooperation was suspended in 2014 amid Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The meeting between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Gen. Valery Gerasimov was announced by Dunford’s office Wednesday and comes amid turmoil in the Trump administration over relations with Russia.

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“The military leaders will discuss a variety of issues, including the current state of U.S.-Russian military relations and the importance of consistent and clear military-to-military communication to prevent miscalculation and potential crises,” the Office of the Joint Chiefs said in a statement.

President Trump has come under increasing pressure over his stated desire to improve relations with Russia in recent days amid news about his aides’ communication with Russian officials.

Michael Flynn resigned as national security advisor Monday night after it was revealed that he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions, then misled Vice President Pence about the conversation.

The New York Times reported Tuesday night that Trump campaign aides were in “constant” contact with Russia officials during the presidential campaign, a story later confirmed by CNN.

As the White House deals with the fallout of Flynn’s resignation, Russia has been testing the United States militarily in a number of ways.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Russia has again violated a landmark arms control treaty by deploying a cruise missile to somewhere within Russia in December.

Russian jets also buzzed a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Black Sea last week, the first confrontation between the Russian and U.S. militaries since Trump took office.

The United States cut off military relations with Russia after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and began backing separatists elsewhere in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Though Thursday will be the first face-to-face meeting between the U.S. and Russia's top generals since then, Dunford and Gerasimov have spoken by phone. The two militaries also speak regularly about air operations in Syria in an effort to prevent midair incidents between pilots flying in the same airspace.

Despite the timing of the meeting coinciding with the Trump administration controversies, Dunford has said for months that he wants a meeting with Gerasimov.

"I'm a believer in keeping lines of communication open no matter what," Dunford told Politico in October. "Even in the 1980s, we had a red phone, we talked to the Russians. So military-to-military communications, regardless of how difficult the relationship may be at a given time ought to be something that you can do.”