Carter Says Russia Is Wrapping Itself in a Shroud of Isolation

  • Speech reflects growing tensions as U.S., Russia trade blame
  • Defense chief comments after Lavrov says U.S. is sowing chaos

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Russia is wrapping itself in a “shroud of isolation” through its actions in Ukraine and Syria, as the two world powers trade blame for escalating tensions.

“Russia has used political, economic, and military tools to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring countries, flouted international legal norms, and destabilized the European security order by attempting to annex Crimea and continuing to fuel further violence in eastern Ukraine,” Carter said Wednesday in Washington.

In Syria, he said, Russia’s efforts to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “will inflame and prolong the Syrian civil war.”

Carter’s speech to an annual conference supporting the U.S. Army reflected the growing friction between the U.S. and Russia as the two countries point fingers at each other for exacerbating conflicts from Europe to the Middle East. Repeated confrontations since the turmoil in Ukraine began have dragged already strained U.S.-Russia relations to the lowest point since the Cold War.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, referring to the U.S. and its allies, that certain countries have “oatmeal in their heads” for failing to understand that Russia’s military campaign in Syria aims to defeat terrorism. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said attempts by the U.S. and its allies to block the emergence of what he called a just world order are sowing chaos.

Sending Medvedev

While Russia’s ready to talk about its Syria campaign with “maps in hand,” the U.S. wants only technical discussions to prevent clashes between the nations’ air forces conducting bombing operations over Syria, Lavrov told lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday.

Lavrov said the U.S. declined an offer to send a delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Washington to explain Russia’s operations.

“We’ve said that we’re not interested in doing that, as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. “Russia has their own agenda and it’s an agenda right now that they’re pursuing on their own. So it’s not particularly surprising to me that President Putin would resort, in some desperation, to try to send the second-highest ranking official in the Russian government to the United States to try to convince us to join them.”

Video Talks

U.S. and Russian military officials held a third videoconference on Wednesday on steps to avoid potential clashes over Syrian airspace. Both sides said progress was made.

In a sign of the risks involved, a Russian Su-30 fighter jet flew within about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to 3 kilometers of a U.S. warplane on Oct. 10 during a mission in Aleppo Province, according to a statement by the Defense Ministry in Moscow on Wednesday. The intention was to identify the plane and “not scare anyone,” the ministry said in a statement.

But Carter said in his speech that “we’ve seen increasingly unprofessional behavior from Russian forces,” including violating Turkish airspace, shooting “cruise missiles from a ship in the Caspian Sea without warning” and coming “within just a few miles of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles.”

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