A “ceasefire” brokered by the U.S. and Russia is supposedly in effect in Syria, but you’d never know it from all the bombs and artillery shells raining down. Some of those bombs were dropped by the U.S.-led coalition on Syrian government forces, killing 62 of them.
This led to what CNN describes as “a furious row between the US and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations outside an emergency Security Council meeting” on Sunday.
“We consider what happened as a natural result of the persistent refusal of the United States from the establishment of close cooperation with Russia in the fight against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other affiliated terrorist groups,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“I have never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness,” declared Russia’s representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, after arguing with U.S. ambassador Samantha Power about Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Power denounced Russia’s call for a U.N. meeting as “a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding” that was “uniquely cynical and hypocritical.”
The U.S. was even subjected to hectoring about ceasefire violations by the Assad regime, delivered by one of his media advisers: “I ask the United States if they truly mean to target terrorists, where is the problem in coordinating their efforts with Russia, with the Syrian-Arab army, with anyone who is targeting terrorists? After all, this is the target for all of us, so why are they prolonging the agony of the Syrian people and allowing the terrorists, all this time, and all this space, to slaughter our people?”
The Syrian regime denounced the U.S. airstrike that struck its forces near Deir el-Zour as a “dangerous and blatant aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic and its army.” In a statement to the United Nations, it accused the U.S. of planning the attack in advance.
Even Iran got into the act, claiming the U.S. bombing was a violation of Syrian sovereignty that proved “terrorist groups enjoy U.S. support in Syria,” according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. military said it was targeting Islamic State militants, who are not party to the ceasefire, and struck Syrian forces by accident. This was supported by Australia, whose planes were also involved in the attack. Australia’s Department of Defense said the bombing “ceased immediately” when Russian officials advised the U.S. coalition that Syrian troops were hit by the strikes.
“Russia and Syria said the strikes prove Washington and its allies are sympathetic to ISIS, which they say was able to briefly capture a Syrian position in the wake of the coalition attack,” CNN reports.
The Associated Press makes the darkly comical assertion that the ceasefire is “largely holding,” despite being “repeatedly violated by both sides,” which has prevented aid convoys from reaching the hardest-hit areas of besieged Aleppo — one of the major reasons a ceasefire was called for.
The AP relays complaints from Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov that both “terrorists and the opposition” — a very fine distinction, in the minds of Assad and his Russian patrons — have been taking advantage of the ceasefire to “boost their forces and prepare for renewed hostilities.” He further complained that the U.S. government was not using its influence with Syrian opposition forces to get them to cease fire.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in turn, accused Russia of turning a blind eye while Syrian regime forces violated the ceasefire and interfered with humanitarian aid delivery.
“Stop the grandstanding, stop the showboating, and get the humanitarian assistance going,” Kerry told Moscow.
The New York Times writes that the U.S. bombing “has put it on the defensive, undercutting American efforts to reduce violence in the civil war and open paths for humanitarian relief.”
The Times’s take on the crisis suggests that Obama administration strategists were betting that Russia and/or Assad would blow the ceasefire, revealing “Russia’s duplicity in the war” and exposing the Syrian regime’s eagerness to label every group it wants to kill a branch of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
Instead, the bombing of Syrian forces delivered a “propaganda bonanza” to Damascus and Moscow.
“Many American officials believe that the Russians were never serious about the deal that was sealed in Geneva. The officials argue that the Russians were looking for an excuse that would derail it and keep a status quo in which they have more control over events in Syria than any other power, with the possible exception of Iran. If so, the accidental bombing made that process easier,” the New York Times writes.
An example of how that process works is quoted from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, which accuses the United States of something between “criminal negligence and connivance with Islamic State terrorists,” and goads the Obama administration to “exert the needed pressure on the illegal armed groups under its patronage to implement the cease-fire plan unconditionally.”
It seems odd that John Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration are still trying to score debate-society points against Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime, while those three continue the bloody business of crushing Assad’s opposition — with even more of the notoriously indiscriminate barrel bombs, in Assad’s case.
But Obama’s team is losing the diplomatic game too, as the Russian Foreign Ministry’s fiery statement is exactly the sort of broadside Obama’s State Department thought it would be launching this week, after some Russian or Syrian provocation.
The Associated Press reported on Monday afternoon that the U.S. says it is “prepared to extend the Syria truce despite violations and Syrian announcement it is over.”
At least there is some progress against ISIS to report, as the Pentagon revealed Friday that a drone strike killed ISIS information minister Wael Adel Salman while he was riding a motorcycle near the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, liquidating a “senior leader” and member of the leadership Shura Council — one of the few leaders with direct access to “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
Salman was new to the post of information minister, his predecessor Mohammad al-Adnani having been killed in a U.S. airstrike on August 30.