Top US, Russian generals meet in Vienna

Top US, Russian generals meet in Vienna
© Keren Carrion

The U.S. military’s top officer met Monday with his Russian counterpart to discuss efforts to ensure "strategic stability" between the two militaries, a statement said Monday.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov met in Vienna, Austria, where they recognized “the importance of maintaining regular communication to avoid miscalculation and to promote transparency and deconfliction in areas where our militaries are operating in close proximity,” a statement from Dunford’s office said.

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“The two military leaders discussed the deconfliction of coalition and Russian operations in Syria, and exchanged views on the state of U.S.-Russia military relations and the current international security situation in Europe and other key topics,” the statement said. “In addition, they also discussed efforts to improve operational safety and strategic stability between the U.S. and Russian militaries.”

A Russian statement on the meeting said the two generals also discussed the New START Treaty and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the U.S. has announced plans to withdraw.

The Russian statement called the meeting “constructive.”

Dunford and Gerasimov have met or spoken on the phone several times over the last couple years with an eye toward keeping open lines of communication to prevent a military conflict. Discussions have often centered on Syria, where the U.S. military is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Russian military is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Late last year, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE announced he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The administration has since reversed, saying about 400 U.S. troops will stay behind.

U.S.-Russian tensions have also lately centered on the INF Treaty. Last month, Trump announced the United States was suspending its obligations under the treaty and starting the six-month process to withdraw.

The treaty bans the United States and Russia from having conventional and nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges.

The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty for years, which Russia denies.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially ordered his country to suspend its obligations under the treaty “until the United States of America rectifies its violations of the said treaty or until it expires.” Moscow holds that a U.S. missile defense system in Europe violates the treaty, which the United States denies.

The downfall of the INF Treaty has led to questions about the fate of the separate New START Treaty. That 2010 treaty caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads allowed by the United States and Russia.

New START expires in 2021, but there is an option to extend it for five years after that.

The Trump administration has not made a decision about whether to extend New START. Nonproliferation advocates have expressed concern that Trump will let the accord expire, and leave the United States and Russia without any treaty limitations on their nuclear forces for the first time in decades.

Last month, the top general overseeing U.S. nuclear forces reaffirmed he is a “big supporter” of New START, but said he’d like to see it expanded to weapons Russia is developing outside the scope of the treaty.