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Dunford Meets Russian Counterpart to Strengthen Mil-to-Mil Contacts

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Feb. 16, 2017 — Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Russian counterpart, Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov, here today.

Dunford and Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and the first deputy defense minister, discussed the current state of the military relationship between the United States and Russia.

This was the first face-to-face meeting between the two men. The two have previously spoken via telephone. “There’s a certain advantage to seeing someone face-to-face,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Joint Staff’s director of strategic plans and policy. “While we’ve never had trouble getting him on the phone if we needed to talk, … there’s a certain advantage to sitting down and looking at someone across the table.”

This is the first meeting at this level since January 2014, when Gerasimov met with then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey in Brussels.

Since that meeting, Russia illegally annexed Crimea, intervened in eastern Ukraine, and sent troops, planes and ships to Syria propping up the regime of Bashir Assad. Russian ships and aircraft have acted in a provocative and dangerous manner in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Russia’s actions have drawn worldwide condemnation.

Keeping Lines of Communication Open

The meeting between the two military leaders is not the beginning of an effort to return the relationship to the pre-Crimea status, McKenzie said. Rather, the meeting is a chance to ensure the lines of communication between the two militaries remain open.

The two chiefs of defense did not discuss policy or political issues, the general said. The Dunford-Gerasimov meeting was held to establish the link between the men “so they see each other and have an opportunity to size each other up. It’s very hard to do that over a telephone,” McKenzie said.

The chairman conveyed that the United States values the military-to-military link -- professionals talking to professionals -- regardless of the ups and downs of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“Even at the height of the Cold War, we had a capability to talk to the Russians,” McKenzie said. “It doesn’t reflect we agree with everything or even anything that they are doing; that’s not the purpose of this discussion. The purpose is to establish and reinforce procedures for us to talk in case we have an incident where we need to exchange information rapidly.”

The meeting has been in the works for months, officials said. “The importance of this is the military-to-military communications channel between the [chiefs of defense] is a useful thing to have,” McKenzie said. “We see that as useful, regardless of the state of our relationship with Russia. It is always useful to talk mil-to-mil. It avoids miscalculation; it promotes transparency when we have forces operating in close proximity to each other, as we do in Syria.”

The meeting does not portend increased cooperation between the United States and Russia in Syria or anywhere else, the general said.

Gerasimov has held his position since November 2012. Some credit the general as being the father of Russia’s hybrid war doctrine. The doctrine looks for combinations of military, diplomatic, cyber, economic, information and cultural powers to wage “political warfare” to gain strategic goals. The strategy lives in the grey area between peace and war, stopping short of actual conflict.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
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