Washington, Moscow – In an attempt to avoid escalation with the US on the eve of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, the Kremlin dissociated itself from a joint statement issued by the alliance supporting Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, which threatened action in response to “any breach of red lines from whoever it is”.
However, the Russian presidency said that President Vladimir Putin would not meet with Tillerson, a move that could indicate tensions between the two countries over the recent US attack against a Syrian air base.
Meanwhile, a US official said on Monday that Russia knew in advance about the chemical attack that was launched by the Syrian regime last week, which claimed the lives of dozens of civilians.
The Associated Press quoted the official as saying that a Russian drone was flying above a hospital treating victims and then turned off just before the hospital was bombed.
He added that the Pentagon believed the hospital was targeted in an attempt to hide evidence of the chemical attack.
“The official said the presence of the drone couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment,” the AP reported.
The news came hours before the expected meeting between Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
In a move to avoid more tension between the two countries, Moscow said it was not aware of a joint statement issued by Russia, Iran, Syria and factions supporting Assad that the United States had crossed “red lines” by striking the Syrian airbase.
Addressing reporters on Monday, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We are not aware about that, we cannot confirm that and we do not know where Reuters got this.”
Peskov added that Tillerson would not meet Putin during his visit to Moscow on Wednesday.
He noted however that the US state secretary would follow “strict diplomatic protocol” and only meet his direct counterpart.
“We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,” he told reporters.