The US has issued a warning to Russia that the country’s continued support for President Bashar al-Assad and its military build up in Syria risks undermining their “shared goal of fighting extremism” and could exacerbate the conflict.
Russia has positioned seven T-90 tanks and artillery at an airfield near the Assad stronghold of Latakia, with some 200 Russian naval infantry soldiers sent to the airfield along with temporary housing units, a portable air traffic control station and components of an air defence system, Reuters reported.
US officials have said Russia’s military presence in Syria appears to be aimed strengthening its long-time ally of Assad and his government instead of seeking a transition to a new political leadership, and on Tuesday US Secretary of State John Kerry made his third phonecall in 10 days to Russia’s Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov seeking clarity over Moscow’s moves.
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
1/20 Syria refugee crisis
A young Syrian refugee stands near jerry cans used to collect water at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. The United Nations hopes that political talks between the warring sides in Syria will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians
2/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees transport small stones for their tents at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria
3/20 Syria refugee crisis
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war
4/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family rests inside their shelter in Hatay, Turkey
5/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
6/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syria's air force struck rebel-held areas around Damascus and Aleppo as face-to-face peace talks tentatively began in Switzerland
7/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees look out from an evacuated house in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul. Syrians fill houses which have been evacuated for urban development projects. Destitute Syrian refugees who have fled the war in Syria and camps in Turkey are fighting for their lives in different parts of Istanbul
8/20 Syria refugee crisis
Refugees who moved into the houses in Kucukpazar neighbourhood near the historic Suleymaniye mosque, are struggling to live without water and heating
9/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian woman and her child stand inside a building in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
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A Syrian boy sits in debris in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
11/20 Syria refugee crisis
Damaged buildings line a street in the besieged area of Homs
12/20 Syria refugee crisis
People sit around a fire along a street lined with debris in the besieged area of Homs
13/20 Syria refugee crisis
Children cut wood pieces in the besieged area of Homs. Efforts to get food and medical aid into Homs have become a test case on whether peace talks in Switzerland can produce any practical results almost three years into the Syrian conflict
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Boys walk along a street past damaged buildings and vehicles in the besieged area of Homs
15/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians stand in a destroyed street following a reported airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
16/20 Syria refugee crisis
Rescue teams search for survivors on the rubble of a building following Syrian government air raids in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
17/20 Syria refugee crisis
A graveyard in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
18/20 Syria refugee crisis
A view of destruction in Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque, in the UNESCO-listed northern Syrian city. The mosque's minaret was blown up during clashes between opposition and government forces
19/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians attend the funeral of victims who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus
20/20 Syria refugee crisis
A man holds the corpse of one-year old baby Adbul Jalil Mohamed Hamis wrapped in shrouds, who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus during a funeral ceremony
The State Department said Kerry made it clear that Russia’s support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict, and undermining our shared goal of fighting extremism is we do not also remain focused on finding a solution to the conflict in Syria via a genuine political transition”.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Lavrov had stressed the need to create a united front to battle terrorist groups in Syria.
President Barack Obama has not yet discussed the issue with President Vladimir Putin a White House spokesman said, but will attempt to do so when the President “determines that it would advance our interest”.
US officials have said that Putin’s long-term goals in light of its actions in Syria remain a mystery, with some suggesting Putin could be protecting Russian assets, while others have suggested he could be laying the ground-work for a large Russian presence in a post-Assad Syria. More still have suggested that President Putin is simply betting on Assad’s survival as president.
The growing tension over Russia’s intention in Syria comes as the Guardian revealed that Russia offered to have Assad step down as part of peace talks three years ago, but the West ignored the opportunity.
Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, told the newspaper that during UN Security Council talks in February 2012 the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin tabled a proposal to have Assad step aside after peace talks had started between the regime and the opposition.
But France, the UK and US ignored the proposal, he claims, as they were sure Assad was on the brink of losing power at the time.
“It was an opportunity lost in 2012,” Ahtisaari said.
Additional reporting by agenciesReuse content