US President Barack Obama warned Friday that Russia’s military engagement in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad is a “recipe for disaster.”
The president called Russia’s military involvement, including airstrikes that began this week, a self-defeating exercise that will move the Syrian conflict further from a solution, and said the US would not cooperate with the campaign.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t distinguish between ISIL and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Mr Assad go,” Obama told reporters at a press conference, referring to the self-proclaimed Islamic State group.
“From their perspective, they’re all terrorists. And that’s a recipe for disaster.”
He stressed however that Russia and the US would not engage in a “proxy war” due to their different positions on the civil war.
“We’re going to continue to have tensions. And we’re going to continue to have differences,” Obama said. “But we’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.”
Russia carried out a third day of air strikes in Syria, saying it targeted Islamic State jihadists, as Putin faced increased international criticism over his military campaign.
The West has raised concerns that Russian forces were also striking at rebel groups opposed to Assad, in a bid to bolster its ally.
Obama accused Moscow of “propping up a regime that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Syrian population.”
He also said the United States would “continue to support” moderate rebels in Syria because they are groups that “can help pick up the pieces and stitch together a cohesive, coherent country” in the aftermath of Assad’s rule.
Obama signaled he was willing to engage with Putin, particularly if Moscow “works instead to bring about a political settlement” instead of doubling down on its military support to Assad.
“I said to Mr Putin that I’d be prepared to work with him if he is willing to broker with his partners, Mr Assad and Iran, a political transition,” Obama said.
“We can bring the rest of the world community to a brokered solution, but that a military solution alone — an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population — is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire.”
Moscow, a longtime ally of Assad, began launching airstrikes in Syria this week, adding another layer of tension over the war. The Syrian army had already been joined by fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah terrorist group and other Iranian-backed militias.
The United States, which opposes Assad and is firing its own airstrikes against extremists in Syria, has questioned Moscow’s assertion that it is targeting Islamic terrorists there, saying the areas hit close to Homs are strongholds of the mainstream Syrian opposition to Assad. Allies in the US-led coalition have called on Russia to cease attacks on opposition forces and to focus on fighting Islamic State militants.