Moscow- Russian officials accused the US on Thursday of siding with "terrorists" in Syria, in a sign of escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington amid the battle for Aleppo.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby's warning that the collapse of US-Russian cooperation in Syria could lead to a rise in extremism and potential attacks against Russia drew Moscow's anger.
The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries both cast it as US encouragement of terror attacks on Russia.
"We can't assess those statements as anything else but a call, a directive for action," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Kirby's statement amounted to "the most frank confession by the US side so far that the whole 'opposition' ostensibly fighting a 'civil war' in Syria is a US-controlled international terrorist alliance."
"What makes Kirby's statement particularly shocking is that the scale of direct US influence on terrorists' activity is global and reaches as far as Russia."
The remarks by Russian officials have shown a degree of mistrust and strain between Moscow and Washington after the collapse of the US-Russia-brokered truce and the Syrian army onslaught on Aleppo backed by Russian warplanes. The growing friction makes it increasingly unlikely that the cease-fire could be revived.
US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Wednesday to cut all cooperation with Moscow on Syria unless an onslaught on Aleppo ends.
Kirby, asked what the consequences would be for Russia if cooperation with the US in Syria collapsed, said "that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there ... which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags."
Konashenkov interpreted Kirby's statement as a direct threat to the Russian military in Syria. He said that Russia remains open for dialogue with Washington on Syria, but added that the US needs to "exclude even a hint at threatening our military and Russian citizens."
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Moscow still wants to cooperate with Washington on the Syrian crisis, but blamed the US for a failure to deliver on its pledge under the Sept. 9 agreement to encourage moderate opposition to sever ties with al-Qaida's branch in Syria.
"Our colleagues from Washington have tried to cover up their inability to fulfill their own obligations with verbal attacks on Russia," he said.
Official says failure in Syria may leave Russia in quagmire
A senior Obama administration official told lawmakers Thursday that the failure of a cease-fire in Syria poses serious consequences for Moscow and gives the United States leverage, an argument that drew a skeptical response from Republicans and Democrats.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said if the civil war in Syria escalates, Russia may become stuck in a quagmire and also will be seen as complicit with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the slaughter of Sunni Muslims, the country's largest religious group.
But Blinken's outlook was met with skepticism from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, criticized the administration for not having a backup plan in Syria after a cease-fire brokered between the US and Moscow collapsed about 10 days ago. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that the US will stop coordinating with Moscow unless Russian and Syrian attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo end.
"There is no Plan B. There never has been a Plan B," Corker said.
Blinken said "we also are actively considering other options" at President Barack Obama's direction for ending the civil war. But Blinken also said that Russia and the Assad government face severe consequences if the conflict doesn't end, a situation he said gives the US an advantage.
"Russia has a profound incentive in trying to make this work," Blinken said.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby's warning that the collapse of US-Russian cooperation in Syria could lead to a rise in extremism and potential attacks against Russia drew Moscow's anger. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Kirby's statement amounted to "the most frank confession by the US side so far that the whole 'opposition' ostensibly fighting a 'civil war' in Syria is a US-controlled international terrorist alliance."
In his congressional testimony, Blinken said that if the war escalates, Russia will be left propping up Assad in an increasingly smaller part of Syria.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, pressed Blinken to explain what the US is doing to convince Russia to change its approach in Syria. "Why are we still engaged in a conversation in which we have a 'partner' that continues to undermine our purposes in Syria?" Menendez asked.
Russia escalated its involvement in Syria's civil war because Moscow feared losing its only foothold in the Middle East, according to Blinken.
"It's now in a position of having gotten in, it's very, very hard to get out because Assad cannot win. They can prevent him from losing, but he cannot win," he said. "The leverage is the consequences for Russia of being stuck in a quagmire that is going to have a number of profoundly negative effects."
Blinken said Russia will be seen throughout the world and in the Middle East as complicit with Assad as well as with Hezbollah and Iran "in the slaughter of Sunni Muslims.
Menendez noted that Russia already is complicit in these areas. "Indeed, but this is only going to get worse if the civil war gets worse as a result of their actions," Blinken said.