Obama Administration Fights Russian Aid to Syria With Three Phone Calls

John Kerry and Vladimir Putin
John Kerry and Vladimir Putin / AP
September 16, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry has made three phone calls in 10 days to Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov in an effort to clarify Moscow’s increased military activity in Syria.

The Associated Press reported that Kerry phoned Lavrov a third time Tuesday as Russia continued to fly troops and equipment to an area near the Syrian port city of Latakia, where Moscow appears to be constructing a military base.

"Kerry made clear that Russia’s continued support for [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] risks exacerbating and extending the conflict, and undermining our shared goal of fighting extremism if we do not also remain focused on finding a solution to the conflict in Syria via a genuine political transition," the State Department said in a statement.

Kerry’s third call came after Russia defied U.S. efforts and began to fly military equipment and personnel to Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the aid Tuesday, describing it as necessary to helping combat the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL and ISIS) in the region.

The Russian activity in Syria has perplexed the Obama administration.

"The decision-making process in that country is rather opaque," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, saying that any long-term goal on the part of Putin is "not clear exactly."

An anonymous U.S. official compared the possible options for responding to Russian activity to "spaghetti on the wall." State Department spokesman John Kirby hinted that sanctions might be a way in which the United States could respond to increased Russian action in the area.

"These actions inside Syria could very well lead to further isolation for Russia," Kirby said.

According to the New York Times, President Obama is considering meeting with Putin to discuss the chaos in Syria when the two cross paths later this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

While Russia, like Iran, has remained a strong ally of Assad, the Obama administration has stood on the side of the Syrian rebels fighting the regime in the Syrian civil war.

Uncertainty surrounding Russia’s behavior in Syria has reportedly prompted some allies of the United States to consider cooperating with Putin.

For instance, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond last week informed Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that the government would be open to compromises with Russia and Iran that could result in Assad playing a role "for some months" to stabilize Syria.

The State Department spokesman dismissed such an idea.

"Nothing’s changed about the fact that we don't want to see the Assad regime getting any support. There can’t be a role (for) the Assad regime in efforts to stabilize the situation in Syria, much less go against ISIL," Kirby said.