Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. He placed the Syrian civil war and Ukraine crisis at the top of his list of topics to discuss.
His meeting with Lavrov is the twentieth this year and the third meeting about Syria.
“I look forward to making real progress,” declared Kerry before he met with Lavrov. “I think the world benefits when powerful nations with a long history with each other have the ability to be able to find common ground.”
He told Lavrov, “Even when there have been differences between us we have been able to work effectively on specific issues.”
Previous talks on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and 2014 annexation of Crimea have yielded no results, however. The crisis has deteriorated relations between the U.S. and Russia to Cold War levels.
The Syrian civil war has made the situation worse, as the Kremlin is one of President Bashar al-Assad’s closest allies. Russian officials insist Assad must be part of the peace process, but the West and other allies want him to step down from power. President Barack Obama and Putin held a “very constructive” and “surprisingly open” discussion about Syria on September 29.
Yet, the next day, Putin ordered airstrikes on Syria. Putin promised the UN his forces would only strike the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), but evidence later surfaced that the Russians targeted anyone perceived as an enemy of Assad.
Despite Russia’s actions, Kerry raised a glass to the Kremlin for being “a significant contributor to the progress that we have been able to make” in Syria.
“Russia and the United States agree that this [ISIS] is a threat to everybody, to every country,” stated Kerry. “They are the worst of terrorists. They attack culture and history and all decency. It leaves no choice but for civilized nations to stand together, to fight and destroy them.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement shorty thereafter condemning the U.S., insisting the West should stop “dividing terrorists into good and bad ones.” The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main opposition group, denies Russia sent them any help or support. Instead, Russian warplanes keep bombing them.
Kerry also hoped to find a resolution for the Ukraine crisis. East Ukraine has been in a civil war since March 2014. Russian soldiers and pro-Russian rebels retaliated against the pro-West Parliament by ousting Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. Ceasefire meetings between Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France occurred in Minsk, Belarus, in September 2014 and February 2015, but neither one has stuck. Kerry demanded Russia cooperate in the ceasefire, but Lavrov dismissed the suggestion. He placed “responsibility” on Washington.
“Of course, we would like to continue the dialogue … on how the United States can assist with the Ukrainian settlement,” he said. “Given the U.S. influence on Kiev, it would be a positive factor.”