As the Battle for Aleppo Rages, Trust Between U.S. and Russia Reaches New Low
Comments from diplomats on Thursday, as well as developments on the ground in Aleppo, Syria signal an increasing divide between the U.S. and Russia, just one week after a ceasefire brokered by the two powers fell through. Responding to remarks made by State Department spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday, a Russian diplomat and military general echoed suspicions that the U.S. is supporting an “international terrorist alliance.” Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is “on the verge of suspending the discussion” of cooperation with Russia in Syria.
Recent developments in Aleppo, which is in a bloody tug-of-war between rebels and the government, are bleak as well: in its intensifying campaign to retake rebel-held areas in the city’s eastern sphere, government airstrikes have killed hundreds over the past week, and took out two major hospitals on Wednesday. Access to medical supplies–and food–is all but blocked, and the city has only 30 doctors left.
The relationship between Moscow and Washington is as bad as it has been since Russia joined the fight, in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, nearly one year ago. On Wednesday, Kirby said if U.S. and Russia stop cooperating in Syria, extremist groups will carry out “attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags.”
This, two Kremlin representatives said, proved the U.S. supports “terrorists.”
“We can’t assess those statements as anything else but a call, a directive for action,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. A spokesman of Russia’s Defense Ministry said Kirby’s comments were “the most frank confession by the U.S. side so far that the whole ‘opposition’ ostensibly fighting a ‘civil war’ in Syria is a U.S.-controlled international terrorist alliance.”
Because of the dwindling possibility of a cooperative strategy with Russia in combating the Islamic State in Syria, an enemy to all sides, U.S. officials are considering alternative responses to Assad’s barrage in Aleppo. Military options are on the table, a U.S. official privy to the discussions told Reuters.
But even with the frayed relationship between the U.S. and Russia, a spokesman of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin is still open to co-operate with the U.S. He also blamed the U.S. for the moderate rebel groups who failed to comply with the ceasefire by distancing themselves from jihadist groups.