US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said today that Ukraine was the sole sticking point keeping the United States and Russia from forging a closer relationship, suggesting that all other disputes were secondary.
"The issue that stands in the way is Ukraine," Tillerson said.
The assessment from America's top diplomat notably played down other areas of dispute, particularly Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election. US intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI, have concluded the Kremlin interfered in the election in an effort to help now-President Donald Trump and hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on that finding, and a special counsel is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian effort. He has said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal denials that Moscow meddled.
But Tillerson hasn't shied away from accusing the Kremlin of election interference. One of the Trump team's toughest voices on Russia, he said in a speech last week that there was "clear evidence of Russia meddling in democratic elections in the US and Europe," and he called it part of an "active threat of a recently resurgent Russia."
Tillerson's focus on Ukraine came as he met with European diplomats at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, established during the Cold War to serve as a bridge between East and West.
Tillerson insisted the US could never overlook Russia's "attempted annexation" of Crimea or Moscow's military intrusion in eastern Ukraine.
"We should be clear about the source of this violence," Tillerson said.
"Russia is arming, leading, training and fighting alongside anti-government forces.
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