Russian President Putin stated on Wednesday that the American-Russian relationship has worsened, adding, “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”
This strain in relations comes following a chemical weapons attack in Syria which the U.S. believes was conducted against rebels by the Syrian government (under Syrian President Assad’s leadership), while Russia maintains that it was either accidental or conducted by the rebels themselves in order to implicate Assad. Some in the U.S. also allege that Russia itself was complicit in the attack in some way.
As a result of this chemical weapons attack, the U.S. launched airstrikes against Syria and is now increasing calls for Assad’s removal from power. Trump has also met with NATO in order to gain their support in condemning Syria and to drum up support for future action. This marks an about-face from his previous dismissal of NATO’s relevance.
The U.S. has called for Russia to distance itself from the likes of Syria (and Iran) in order to work more closely with the U.S. and other Western countries on mutual interests, such as combatting ISIS and fighting Islamic terrorism in general.
However, Russia is currently maintaining support for Syria due to their interests in the country’s current government (i.e. Assad). The Russians have a naval base in Syria and have recently reached an agreement with Assad to expand and modernize the facilities there. The Russians view the base, and another Syrian air base, as essential to their ability to project military power in the Middle East. Russia likely fears that without Assad, the government of Syria would either be taken over by someone less reliant on Russian support or that the country would devolve into a lawless state such as Libya, making future use of the Russian bases problematic.
For its part, the U.S. would like to remove Assad from power, presumably instituting some sort of democratically-elected government while keeping the radical elements, such as ISIS, from power. At the same time, the U.S. wants to limit the nuclear ambitions of both Iran and North Korea. At least with North Korea, the U.S. finds China as sharing similar interests in keeping North Korea in check. So far regarding Syria, there is not a comparable understanding or relationship between the U.S. and Russia.