National Security

Russia Dismisses U.S. Threats to Cut Off Diplomatic Talks in Syria

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama in 2015 / AP

Russia vowed on Thursday to move forward with its military operations in Syria, brushing aside the Obama administration’s threat to sever talks if Moscow continues its assault on Aleppo.

Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, told reporters Thursday that Moscow had repeatedly suggested 48-hour cessations of violence to allow humanitarian access, but he said U.S. officials "are totally fixated" on a week-long pause "for reasons that only they know," the New York Times reported.

A seven-day pause is a period long enough for terrorist groups to take necessary measures to replenish supplies and regroup forces, Ryabkov said from Moscow. "A seven-day period is unacceptable for us."

Secretary of State John Kerry warned his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a phone call Wednesday that the U.S. would halt plans for bilateral engagement against militant targets unless Russian and Syrian military forces halted their attacks on the besieged city of Aleppo.

Kerry had pressed to reinstate a seven-day ceasefire that unraveled last week after violence erupted between rebel forces and the Syrian military.

Senior Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) issued a joint statement Wednesday evening mocking Kerry’s threat to Russia. Both have been highly critical of the Obama administration’s diplomatic engagement in Syria, arguing there also needs to be a willingness to impose costs on Moscow and Damascus.

"Finally, a real power move in American diplomacy. Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most–the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral talks about Syria," the senators said sarcastically.

"We can only imagine that having heard the news, Vladimir Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes on hospitals, schools, and humanitarian aid convoys around Aleppo. After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry," the pair continued.

While the Obama administration struggles to convince Moscow to reengage in ceasefire negotiations, the Syrian and Russian militaries have continued air assaults in Aleppo.

Two hospitals in a besieged eastern part of the city were hit on Wednesday by either Russian or Syrian government airstrikes that killed three patients, including a child, and wounded three staff members, according to the Times.

President Obama acknowledged on Wednesday night that the U.S. was left with few options to end Syria’s devastating civil war after a series of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts, though he defended his administration’s "judicious" policy in the region.

"Unless we can get the parties involved to recognize that they are just burning their country to the ground, and get it on a diplomatic and political track, frankly, there’s going to be a limit to what we can do," Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper.