US Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Russia to seek Moscow’s cooperation in the war against the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group in Syria, even as the two countries face worsening relations over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as well as NATO’s expansion to Russian borders.
Kerry will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday.
The top US diplomat was going to Russia “yet again” to have “another go” at getting Moscow to accept a process that could lead to a cessation of hostilities in Syria, Toner said. “There are areas with regard to Syria and how to resolve the conflict on which we agree.”
However, Toner added: “While we have reached those overarching agreements, we have not seen the practical reality on the ground yet.”
Kerry’s planned trip to Russia has been met with strong opposition from American military and intelligence officials who argue that the US and Russia have completely opposite objectives in Syria.
“It isn’t clear why the secretary of state thinks he can enlist the Russians to support the administration’s goals in Syria,” said one US intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“He’s ignoring the fact that the Russians and their Syrian allies have made no distinction between bombing ISIL and killing members of the [so-called] moderate opposition, including some people that we’ve trained,” the official said. “Why would we share intelligence and targeting information with people who’ve been doing that?”
“The Russians want a settlement that would keep (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad or some replacement acceptable to them in power,” said a US military official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kerry’s trip to Moscow comes as US-Russian relations have worsened with tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, Russian maneuvers near US aircraft and warships and Russia’s bombardment of US-backed militants in Syria.
Ties between the West and Russia have been in tatters since the Crimean Peninsula rejoined Russia in a referendum in March 2014.
During a NATO summit last week in Warsaw, Poland, US President Barack Obama urged leaders of the Western military alliance to stand firm against Russia over its “seizure” of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Russia has lambasted NATO for expanding its presence in the Baltic states near Russia, saying the US-led alliance is fomenting a Cold-War atmosphere.