Putin's spokesman expects Tillerson to be tough, but listen

Former Exxon CEO is expected to tell Senate leaders he's "alarmed" by Russian actions.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Updated Jan. 11, 2017 at 7:44 AM
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MOSCOW, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson will listen to Russia, but will continue with his legacy of being a "tough person," a Kremlin spokesperson said.

Tillerson faces grilling from U.S. lawmakers for his nomination to become the next U.S. Secretary of State, the nation's top diplomat. A former oil boss, Tillerson has faced tough questions about his close, even personal, relationship with Russian business and political leaders, including President Vladimir Putin.

While at Exxon, Tillerson worked closely with Russian oil companies under U.S. sanctions pressure. If confirmed, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin expects Tillerson to listen to the positions of one of the main adversaries of the United States.

"This does not mean that we wear rose-colored glasses," he said. "We understand that naturally, Mr. Tillerson will continue being a rather tough person in pursuing his line."

In his prepared remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published by the Washington Post, the former Exxon Mobil CEO offered a mixed stance on Russia. NATO allies, he's prepared to say, "are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia," though he faulted the administration of outging President Barack Obama for sending "weak or mixed signals" to the Kremlin.

Tillerson and Exxon parted ways last week in an effort to address potential conflicts of interest between his financial ties to one of the biggest oil companies in the world and becoming the nation's top diplomat. Having never served in public office, the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump said Tillerson is qualified based on his ability to navigate geopolitical issues as a businessman.

Tillerson was endorsed by top former security strategists, but his close ties with Russia may complicate the nomination process given concerns about foreign intervention in the U.S. political process that seemingly favored Trump.

"While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests," Tillerson is prepared to say.

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