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According to reporting by Reuters, US Defense Secretary James Mattis is open to holding talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a move that hasn’t been made since 2015.

Key quotes

“The possibility of talks surfaced after Monday’s controversial summit in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which they sought an end to years of strained relations. Trump was heavily criticized at home for not holding Putin accountable in Helsinki for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, an allegation that Moscow denies.

Discussions between Mattis and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu would be another step toward creating more regular top-level political talks between the two nuclear powers, whose relations have deteriorated in recent years to the worst point since the Cold War.  Two U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Mattis was open to the possibility of talks. They did not suggest he was actively seeking discussions with Shoigu, either in person or by telephone.

The Russian military is reaping political dividends from what the Kremlin saw as its big successes in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and Syria, where Russian forces helped turn the tide of a civil war in Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad’s favor in 2015.

Shoigu is a critic of the United States and was quoted last week telling an Italian newspaper that Russia would always work to counter what he described as America’s “neocolonialism strategy.” Shoigu said the strategy was aimed at destabilizing countries like Iraq and Libya for U.S. financial gain.  Former U.S. officials said former President Barack Obama’s last two defense secretaries – Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter – came to the conclusion after attempts to hold meaningful dialogue with Shoigu that the discussions were not worth their time.

Derek Chollet, a former senior Pentagon official who was present during talks with Shoigu under the Obama administration, doubted that Mattis would find any discussions very productive.  “Perhaps Mattis feels as though he has to test the proposition for himself, but I don’t hold out much hope that he’s going to get anywhere. If anything, he could expose himself as out of step with his boss,” Chollet said, referring to Trump.”