Washington has “suspended” bilateral contacts with Moscow over the Syrian crisis, the US State Department said. Russian Foreign Ministry said it was “disappointed” by the decision and accused the US of seeking to shift blame for its own failure in Syria.
US officials had threatened for a week to withdraw from the Syrian peace process, after the latest ceasefire negotiated by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed amid bloody fighting.
While contacts between US and Russian military to “deconflict” encounters between their aircraft in Syrian skies will continue, the US is withdrawing personnel that was dispatched for the purpose of setting up the Joint Implementation Center (JIC) for the ceasefire, agencies reported citing the State Department.
There is “nothing more for the US and Russia to talk about” in Syria, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.
Russia has made efforts to preserve the September 9 ceasefire agreement, while repeatedly urging Washington to live up to its obligations, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on Monday.
“It turns out that Washington has failed to fulfill the key condition of the agreement to ease humanitarian situation for the residents of Aleppo” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “And now, apparently, having failed to honor these agreements that they themselves worked out, [the US] is trying to shift the blame.”
The JIC would have been located in Geneva, Switzerland, with the purpose to coordinate military cooperation and intelligence-sharing between Russia and the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
Washington has dragged its feet on setting up the JIC, however, with State Department spokesman John Kirby telling reporters on September 16 that its establishment was contingent on humanitarian aid reaching Aleppo, while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, told lawmakers the US had “no intention of having an intelligence-sharing agreement with the Russians.”
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended Moscow’s participation in a program for disposing of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads, citing “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties.”
The White House called the decision “disappointing.”
“This is not a decision we took lightly,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters Monday afternoon, claiming that Russia had not lived up to its obligations under the ceasefire agreement.
Asked if the US fulfilled its own obligation to separate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists, Trudeau replied, “We believe we did.”
“We had detailed negotiations with the opposition, emphasizing the importance of ‘demarbleizing’ [sic] from Al-Nusra,” Trudeau said, clarifying Washington’s official stance that “Nusra is Al-Qaeda, they are a terrorist organization.”
RT’s Gayane Chichakyan reminded Trudeau that several major rebel groups refused outright to abide by the ceasefire.
“We expected good faith efforts, not only from rebel groups on the ground… but also Russia,” Trudeau replied. “If attacked, opposition groups have the right to defend themselves.”
Separating the rebels from Al-Qaeda elements was the primary obligation of the US under the ceasefire arrangement, Max Abrahms, counterterrorism expert at Northwestern University, told RT. “This is the main thing that the US promised to do, and the US frankly did not do it.”
On the other hand, the US expected Russia to influence the Syrian government to pause operations against the US-backed rebels. “That really didn’t happen either,” Abrahms said, adding that he would prefer to see continued cooperation between the US and Russia to defeat the terrorists.
Washington’s primary focus in Syria was the fight against IS and “helping those most in need within Syria,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday.
A new UN report has blamed the extremely dire humanitarian situation in Syria on the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US. The sanctions are “the most extreme and far-reaching that have been imposed than any sanctions regime they can think of,” investigative journalist Rania Khalek told RT, adding she was told by the State Department that “any humanitarian issues that have arisen in Syria are all to be blamed on the Syrian government.”
The sanctions are “destroying the Syrian economy,” said Khalek, who published the leaked UN report.
‘There’s no alternative’: Russian UN envoy says US decision to suspend Syria contacts ‘regrettable’
“I don’t think there is any alternative [to the bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington],” the diplomat told Russian reporters in New York. “That they have announced this is highly regrettable.”
“There is also no alternative to trying to implement a ceasefire, and to stopping the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS while making sure that the so-called moderate opposition understands that time has come to lay down their weapons.”
Following months of negotiations and stillborn peace deals, on Monday the US said that Russia was “unwilling or unable” to ensure that the Syrian government stuck to them, and claimed that Moscow and its allies in Damascus “have chosen to pursue a military course.”
Moscow does not accept responsibility for the breakdown in cooperation, and says it has done everything to sustain the peace process, including implementing a 72-hour ceasefire late last month that should have ensured the delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo, the site of the most intense fighting between government forces and opposition factions.
Russia also says that the White House kept covering up for extreme Islamists, making it impossible to produce a joint plan of operations, a key part of the bilateral proposal agreed a fortnight ago.
“Why could Washington not deliver what it promised – to delineate between the terrorists [the Al-Nusra Front] and the so-called moderate opposition,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that his organization “deeply regrets” the communication breakdown between Moscow and Washington, and promised to continue working on a diplomatic resolution to a war that has resulted in over 400,000 deaths, according to the UN’s own estimate.
“The UN will never abandon the Syrian people to a destiny of endless violent conflict,” de Mistura said in a statement.
For political analyst Ammar Waqqaf, the US decision to break ties with Russia is an admission of impotence, not a strategic gambit.
“Faced with a total inability to influence what is happening on the ground. the only option left to Kerry and other US officials is to resign, and to shift the responsibility for the conflict to the next elected administration. There is nothing more they can do now,” Waqqaf told RT.
US ‘ready to ally with terror’ to overthrow Assad
Washington “has never exerted any real pressure on Jabhat Al-Nusra, done nothing for delineation to succeed and taken no action against its militants,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday, following the US decision to suspend cooperation on Syria.
Besides failing to deliver on its part of the deal, the US were hampering Moscow’s efforts to stop the terrorists, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, calling Washington’s decision a “reflection” of the Obama administration’s inability to meet the key condition for Russia-US cooperation on the Syrian peace process.
The way the situation has been unraveling in Syria in the past few weeks has made Moscow doubt what Washington’s real intentions are, according to the ministry.
“We are becoming more convinced that in a pursuit of a much desired regime change in Damascus, Washington is ready to ‘make a deal with the devil’,” the Foreign Ministry said. For the sake of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad, the US appears to be ready to “forge an alliance with hardened terrorists, dreaming of turning back the course of history.”
While Jabhat Al-Nusra, a designated terrorist organization, has been known as an Al-Qaeda affiliate for many years, Washington “is not in a hurry to separate US-oriented anti-government forces from it,” Moscow points out. On the contrary, even though Al-Nusra has never been a part of any peace deal, Washington “covers it with the shield of opposition groups which formally confirmed their participation in the cessation of hostilities.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who on Monday assumed the post of the President of the UN Security Council, expressed his concerns over the halt in Russia-US cooperation in Syria.
At the same time, he insisted that the current setback in Syria will not lead to another “Cold War” between Moscow and Washington.
“I think you are dramatizing the nature of our disagreements with the US,” Churkin said, replying to a reporter at a press conference, adding that there’s still a chance to revive the cooperation.
“I hope there will not be a new Cold War,” he added.
For now, the main objective in Syria for Russia is to thwart Al-Nusra’s latest offensive in Aleppo, which has seen increasing number of terrorist attacks in the wake of the ceasefire’s collapse.
“In the process of the past few weeks, after the September 9 arrangements were reached, we have seen numerous violations by Nusra and others cooperating with Nusra of the cessation of hostilities regime”, Churkin said, adding that about 1.5 million people are currently stand the risk of being besieged by its militants south of Aleppo.
“We must make sure that Nusra’s influence is not going to continue to spread,” he stressed, describing the situation in Aleppo as “extremely dramatic.”
On a broader scale, Russia’s long-term aim in the region is to “throw the terrorists out” of Iraq and Syria, as it is the only way to secure the lives of civilians, living there in constant danger from extremists.
To mitigate the impact of one of the terrorists’ most powerful weapons, propaganda, Russia has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council designed “to counter terrorist ideology and the ideology of violent extremism,” Churkin said.