Moscow – Tensions between Moscow and Washington have reached a new dangerous level after the collapse of the Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire in Syria. Russia and the U.S. blamed one another for the meltdown of the truce as the Syrian army launched an attempt to seize Aleppo under the cover of Russian warplanes. The U.S. denounced Russian bombing raids of Aleppo as ‘barbaric’, while the Kremlin sharply criticized Washington for failing to meet its pledge to separate moderate rebels from the al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.
Daily phone calls between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have failed to solve the impasse, and on Monday the United States declared that it was cutting all bilateral contacts with Russia on Syria.
The angry spat raises the prospect of further escalation of fighting in Syria. U.S. officials have hinted at the possibility of providing more deadly weapons to the rebels, and Russia will undoubtedly respond in kind by beefing up its forces in Syria. Amid the strain, Moscow and Washington also have exchanged strongly-worded statements on nuclear issues.
THE SYRIAN DEADLOCK
The Sept. 9 agreement struck by Kerry and Lavrov called for a weeklong cease-fire in Syria to be followed by joint U.S.-Russian efforts to fight the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. Nusra has recently renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in a bid to avoid the U.S. strikes. Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. was supposed to persuade the moderate rebels to cut ties with the Nusra, while Russia obliged to persuade the Syrian troops to allow access of humanitarian aid to the rebel-controlled eastern part of Aleppo and other areas.
The cease-fire held for a few days, but the rebels never moved to sever ties with the Nusra and have been reluctant to pull back from a key highway leading to Aleppo to open the way for aid deliveries. An air strike by the U.S.-led coalition on Syrian army positions near Deir el-Zour that killed 60 soldiers and wounded more than 100 others dealt a crushing blow to the truce. Washington said the raid was launched by mistake, but Russia has questioned the sincerity of the U.S. explanations.
A few days later, a raid on a humanitarian convoy outside Aleppo killed 20. The U.S. blamed the attack on Russia, while Moscow denied the accusations and claimed that a U.S. drone was spotted near the area. Amid the acrimony, the Syrian army launched a massive attack on Aleppo under the cover of massive aerial bombardment conducted by Syrian and Russian warplanes.
Russia responded to the U.S. demands to end the offensive on Aleppo by accusing Washington of the failure to separate the opposition from the al-Qaida’s affiliate, saying it made the truce pointless. It angrily denounced a warning by U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby that the collapse of U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria could lead to a rise in extremism and potential attacks against Russia, saying that his words amounted to the encouragement of terror attacks. When asked what consequences would be for Russia if its cooperation with the U.S. in Syria collapsed, Kirby said last week that “that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there … which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags“.