The United States joined with France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom for a joint rebuke of Russia for its bombing campaign in Syria.
“We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib which led to civilian casualties and did not target Da’esh,” the statement says. “These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization. We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Thursday that Russia is only targeting terrorist groups, but other nations have said they’re lumping secular opposition to Bashar Assad’s regime into that category.
“If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?” Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who this week blasted the Obama administration for letting Syria get to this point, said at the Washington Ideas Forum today that “everybody knows that that is Free Syrian Army in a very vital area in that part of Syria” struck by Russia, Homs — “and that was about the first target.”
“My friends, it’s amazing when you think about it because if Putin had wanted to deceive us, he might’ve bombed some other targets first. First day of bombing after the military attache in Baghdad informed us an hour before the bombing started,” McCain said. “And now that you’ve seen the pictures and apparently a number of people were killed including seven children in this bombing attack by Russia, I mean, it’s a blatant, in your face move.”
“And then of course, just as he said there are no Russian troops in Crimea, they’re saying no, we were only attacking ISIS.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said “the only way you can interpret this” is as “testimony to the lack of concern that Russia has about America’s reaction to their actions.”
“And there are plenty of ISIS targets,” McCain added. “But they picked the one place where Free Syrian Army enclave was, and a pretty successful one, one that’s been doing rather well in the fight against Bashar Assad.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told the forum that “what we are really seeing is an escalation of what Russia was already doing in providing military support to Assad.”
“I mean, one way to think about this is, and you know everybody is looking at Putin as if this is some offensive maneuver. Again, they have had bases in Syria for a very long time. This is their principal client state in the Arab world. It’s been collapsing. He’s trying to prop it up. I think that’s hardly someone who is in a strong position,” Rhodes argued.
“That’s, by the way, the same thing he’s facing in Ukraine. They had a client in Yanukovich. That collapsed out of the hollow rot of corruption. Now they are trying to grab a piece of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are rejecting them. So this is not someone who was operating from a position of strength. This is someone who is seeing, again, two of his principal partners in the world in a lot of trouble.”