This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The top U.S. and Russian generals are set to meet to discuss the situation in Syria, where the two countries, along with Iran and Turkey, have been militarily involved in the Middle East country’s eight-year civil war.
U.S. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s military general staff, will also discuss other pressing matters when they meet in Vienna on March 4, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs said.
“The two military leaders will discuss the deconfliction of coalition and Russian operations in Syria, plus exchange views on the state of U.S.-Russia military relations and the current international security situation in Europe and other key topics,” said the spokesman, Colonel Patrick Ryder.
President Donald Trump surprised U.S. lawmakers and international allies in December by announcing he intends to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The president said the troops were no longer needed, asserting that Islamic State (IS) insurgents had been defeated.
Republicans, Democrats, and some foreign officials criticized the decision for what they called a hastily planned withdrawal of the troops, with many saying it leaves Kurdish allies at the mercy of the Turks and hands a victory to Russia and Iran.
The White House last month then clarified its plans for U.S. forces, saying it will leave 400 “peacekeeping” troops in Syria to help protect the Kurds.
Russia, along with Iran, has provided crucial support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war. The United States and Turkey support differing rebel groups.
Relations between Moscow and Washington and their militaries were severely damaged in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its aid for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Dunford and Gerasimov met periodically in 2018 as the sides attempted to ease tensions and restore communications.
The countries are also in dispute over the U.S. decision to pull out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the terms of which Washington says Moscow has violated.
Russia, which denies the accusation, said it was also withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which banned both countries from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.