US warns Russia its support for Syria's Assad could extend conflict

The warning follows the revelation that the West apparently ignored Russia’s offer to have Assad ‘step aside’ in 2012

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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.


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”.

Russia is a key ally of Bashar al-Assad’s regime

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 agencies