Russia must change its military targeting as it backs the Syrian regime, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday, as world powers seek a cessation of hostilities in the war-torn country within a week.
“To date, the vast majority of Russia’s attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups,” Kerry said. “To adhere to the agreement it made, we think it is critical that Russia’s targeting change.”
Russia has supported the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against rebel forces whom it collectively labels “terrorists”. The United States has provided some support to the rebels and called for Assad to leave power.
Friday’s agreement called for a “cessation of hostilities” within a week and for greatly increased humanitarian access, but it excludes the Islamic State group and al Qaeda-linked extremists.
“There’s a lot of work to do before an effective cessation can commence,” Kerry said.
He stressed this was the crucial moment in a five-year war that has claimed more than 250,000 lives.
“This is the moment. This is a hinge point,” he said. “Decisions made in the coming days and weeks, and a few months could end the war in Syria — or could define a very difficult set of choices for the future.”
He added: “The war in Syria has now lasted for almost five years — and shows no signs of burning itself out — which is why we are so focused on a political track.
“If the international community and the Syrians themselves miss the opportunity now before us to achieve that political resolution to the conflict, the violence, the bloodshed, the torture, the bombing, and the anguish will continue — so will the siren call to jihad.”
NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg had earlier addressed the forum on the subject of tensions with Russia, vowing a firm stance while also offering dialogue.
“We have seen a more assertive Russia, a Russia which is destabilising the European security order,” he said.
“NATO does not seek confrontation and we don t want a new Cold War. At the same time our response has to be firm.”
NATO was now “undertaking the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence in decades, to send a powerful signal to deter any aggression or intimidation. Not to wage war, but to prevent war.”
Stoltenberg charged that “Russia s rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbours, undermining trust and stability in Europe.”
He stressed that “for NATO, the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote” and cautioned that “no-one should think that nuclear weapons can be used as part of conventional conflict”.
The NATO chief said that “some are concerned that we are sleepwalking toward escalation with Russia… I understand those concerns but I do not share them.”
He urged a “more constructive and more cooperative relationship with Russia… I strongly believe that the answer lies with both more defence and more dialogue.”