It is well known that the United States and its allies support Syrian rebels in their quest to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. As Russia does not support this goal, the alliance has called on Russia to stop its recently-launched attacks against the rebels so as to avoid escalating the Syrian conflict.
The U.S.-led coalition reiterated to Russia that its bombing campaign, launched on Wednesday, led to civilian casualties and did not target ISIS militants despite Russia’s claims to the contrary. The U.S. insists that Russia’s primary goal is to keep al-Assad in power and that targeting ISIS is only secondary.
The alliance released a statement that, “[The Russian] 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 [ISIS.]”
Indeed, Russia’s military actions “surprised” and angered the United States and its allies. While the alliance hopes that al-Assad will step down as president due to his atrocities committed against the Syrian people, Putin has a vested interest in seeing that al-Assad remain in power. A Russian-Syrian-Iranian alliance means that Russia can increase its presence in the Middle East.
Moreover, while the United States considers ISIS and other extremist militant groups as the only targets of its airstrikes, Russia considers the Syrian rebels as “terrorists” as well. Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated that, “[Russia’s] goal is terrorism. And we are not supporting anyone against their own people.”
Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh observed that, “They’re hopping mad in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Qatar because of their defeat and the victory of Russia and Syria and the unraveling of the fact that the U.S. and its allies are not serious about fighting [ISIS.] Those who claim to be concerned about the Syrian people are the ones slaughtering the Syrian people through the terrorists.”
Shehadeh is certainly right about the United States being angry. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated that, “It certainly is not in the interests of the United States and Russia to exacerbate this sectarian conflict. But ultimately, it’s the Russians that will pay the highest price for that.”
Saudi Arabia feels the same way. Saudi ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi spoke at the UN in New York yesterday and stated that, “The delegation of my country expresses its profound concern regarding the military operations which Russian forces have carried out in Homs and Hama - places where ISIS forces are not present. These attacks led to a number of innocent victims. We demand it stop immediately and not recur.”