Russia Warns U.S. Against Strikes on Assad’s Positions

  • France’s foreign minister is in Moscow before going to U.S.
  • Russia ready to discuss French ideas on Syria, Lavrov says

Syrian civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, search for victims amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following an air strike on the rebel-held neighborhood of Bustan al-Basha in the city of Aleppo, on Oct. 4, 2016.

Photographer: Thaer Mohammed/AFP via Getty Images

Russia warned the U.S. against attacking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as the breakdown in ties between the former Cold War foes continued to worsen.

With French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Moscow on the first leg of a renewed effort to secure a cease-fire deal in the civil war and halt attacks on the besieged city of Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry said that any air-to-ground strikes targeting territories controlled by the Syrian government would be seen as a direct threat against Russian servicemen deployed in the area. Russia’s air-defense systems may spring a “surprise for any unidentified flying objects,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

After a Sept. 9 ceasefire deal collapsed within days, the U.S. cut bilateral discussions with Russia over the conflict in Syria, leaving the two powers on a collision course as fighting rages around the northern city of Aleppo. Russia hasn’t budged from its support for Assad, continuing to back the Syrian regime’s bombardments in Aleppo, where the United Nations estimates 275,000 people are trapped.

After meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Ayrault will continue the diplomatic push by traveling to Washington for talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the following day. France and the U.S. are working on a UN Security Council resolution calling for yet another cease-fire in Syria to try to halt a war that’s killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe since 2011.

‘New Jihadists’

“Blind bombing creates new jihadists,” Ayrault said after the talks in Moscow, stopping short of accusing Russia of being responsible for the “unprecedented” atrocities in Aleppo as it supports Assad’s actions.

The U.S. has blamed President Vladimir Putin’s government for indiscriminate bombing that has killed civilians and targeted hospitals in Syria. Russia said the U.S. failed to meet its commitment to separate moderate rebels opposed to Assad from terrorist groups.

‘Outrageous’ Behavior

“There was a concerted effort by the United States to work with the Russians to try to reduce the violence in Syria, and time and time again the Russians failed to live up to their end of the agreement,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday. While saying that “there’s no interest in the United States to escalate the violence inside of Syria,” he called the Assad regime’s behavior in the conflict “outrageous” and declined to rule out the further use of sanctions against both Russia and Syria.

Russia regrets the U.S. decision to end the cease-fire discussions, which makes the situation in Syria more difficult, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday. The government called for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss a new proposal on Aleppo, according to a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. The meeting will take place Friday, the official said.

France’s top diplomat distanced himself from any talk of new sanctions, saying he didn’t travel to Moscow to deliver threats. Lavrov said nothing to indicate that Russia is considering changing its stance, blaming the U.S. for failing to achieve a cease-fire. He reiterated that the air-defense systems deployed to protect Russian bases in Syria may be used in response to any attack on government positions.

Russia is “very concerned about what’s happening in Syria,” Lavrov said. “We want to do everything to normalize the situation as soon as possible.”

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