President Donald Trump’s top military adviser is making an unannounced trip to Helsinki, Finland, for sensitive face to face discussions with his Russian counterpart.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to meet with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the current chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, according to an announcement from the Finnish government, which provided the first public disclosure of the meeting.
Even as Dunford’s staff announced the chairman had already met in Helsinki with his Finnish counterpart, commander of the Finnish Defense Forces Gen. Jarmo Lindberg, it would not comment on a possible meeting with Gerasimov.
“I do not have anything to announce at this time,” said Lt. Cmdr. Hayley Sims, a Dunford spokesperson.
Dunford’s sensitivity to any early announcement of the meeting underscores the delicate, yet vital relationship he has established with Gerasimov. While both governments have fraught ties, the two military chiefs have developed a quiet relationship to ensure military relations remain as stable as possible.
Since Gerasimov kept his post as the chief of forces after the latest Russian election, he is seen by the US as a key route to getting any US military message to the highest levels of the Russian government, including President Vladimir Putin, one US official tells CNN.
The Russian relationship has been vital. The two often discuss not only bilateral relations, but operations in Syria where the two sides often operate in close proximity and deconfliction measures are maintained.
Dunford and Gerasimov met in person for the first time in February 2017 in Azerbaijan and then less than a month later, in March, in Turkey. Since then they have regularly maintained phone contact. This latest meeting is not believed to be for any sudden reason.