The Obama administration is complaining that Russian president Vladimir Putin promised he would help to “deconflict” Syria and is now violating those promises.
One senior official, who told Fox News about Obama and Putin agreeing to “deconflict” military operations in Syria, complained that Russia “bypassed that process.” It is suggested that President Obama thought he had such an agreement with Putin as recently as yesterday, as both were in New York to address the United Nations.
“That’s not how responsible nations do business,” this official added.
The U.S.-backed rebels targeted by those Russian bombers probably were not thinking in terms of processes being bypassed during their final minutes on Wednesday morning. Fox News provided an after-action report:
A U.S. official said Russian airstrikes targeted fighters in the vicinity of Homs, located roughly 60 miles east of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, and were carried out by a “couple” of Russian bombers. The strikes hit targets in Homs and Hama, but there is no presence of ISIS in those areas, a senior U.S. defense official said. These planes are hitting areas where Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups are located, the official said.
Activists and a rebel commander on the ground said the Russian airstrikes have mostly hit moderate rebel positions and civilians. In a video released by the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, jets are seen hitting a building claimed to be a location of the group in the town of Latamna in the central Hama province.
The group commander Jameel al-Saleh told a local Syrian news website that the group’s location was hit by Russian jets but didn’t specify the damage.
A group of local activists in the town of Talbiseh in Homs province recorded at least 16 civilians killed, including two children.
The Russians keep talking about bombing ISIS, but they also have a penchant for describing virtually the entire Syrian rebellion, including forces supported by the U.S., as members of ISIS. When Putin discusses the idea of a “political solution” in Syria—i.e. “deconfliction”—he talks about his man Bashar Assad remaining in power, but reaching some sort of settlement with “healthy” opposition groups. Putin apparently sets a very high bar for “healthy” opposition.
According to Fox News, Putin and Obama had what the Russian president described as a “very constructive, business-like, and frank” discussion on the “sidelines” at the United Nations. An administration official claimed Obama told Putin he did not think it was possible for Syria to achieve stability while Assad remained in power, but Putin insisted backing Assad and his military was the only way to defeat ISIS.
Putin cited the threat of Russian citizens defecting to join extremist groups like ISIS as a reason for taking action in Syria. In fact, he mentioned this during his address to the U.N. He compared “attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them,” to playing with fire, warned that the terrorist threat of ISIS was “increasing dramatically and engulfing new regions,” and said Russia was no exception to the flow of militant recruits into terrorist camps.
“We cannot allow these criminals who have already felt the smell of blood, to return back home and continue their evil doings. No one wants this to happen, does he?” Putin asked.
He went on to name the Assad regime as a key element of anti-ISIS strategy. “We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face-to-face,” Putin declared. “We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militia are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”
“You could end this violence within a very short period of time, have a complete cease-fire which Iran could control, which Russia could control, which Syria could control, and which we and our coalition friends could control, if one man would merely make it known to the world that he doesn’t have to be part of the long-term future,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on a Tuesday morning talk show. “He’ll help manage Syria out of this mess, and then go off into the sunset as most people do after a period of public life.”
Compare that to what Putin has been saying, and it is easy to understand how Obama and Kerry were left dazed and uncomprehending after Russian bombs started falling. Putin told them exactly how he thinks Syria ought to be “deconflicted,” but they did not hear a word he said. Somehow Team Obama made it to Wednesday morning thinking all those Russian planes were parked in Syria for show, Putin was not serious about keeping the genocidal gas-bombing dictator Assad in power, and there was some way to end the bloody civil war by inviting the many monsters haunting Syria to a conflict-resolution seminar, or maybe a drum circle.