- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2015

President Obama said Friday that he warned his Russian counterpart years ago that continuing to back Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime would destabilize the region and lead to the kind of chaos and humanitarian crises now unfolding.

At a town-hall meeting at Fort Meade in Maryland, Mr. Obama recalled a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin “four or five years ago” in which he said in no uncertain terms Moscow must cease all financial support and arms sales to the Assad government. Mr. Putin’s failure to listen to that advice, Mr. Obama said, has contributed largely to the violence that has raged in Syria for the past few years and the flood of refugees now trying to get out of the war-torn country.

“Russia has for many years now provided financial support, sold arms to Assad. I remember a conversation I had with Mr. Putin four or five years ago where I told him that was a mistake, that would makes things worse,” Mr. Obama said. “He did not take my warnings, and as a consequence, things have gotten worse. It appears now that Assad is worried enough that he’s inviting Russian advisers and Russian equipment. … We are going to be engaging Russia to let them know that you can’t continue to double down on a strategy that’s doomed to failure.”

The president’s comments come as Russia defends the presence of its military advisers in Syria, where Assad’s forces continues to clash with rebel fighters. The terrorist group the Islamic State also has established a firm foothold in the country, further complicating the geopolitical situation and leading directly to more bloodshed.

Despite the worsening situation on the ground and the geopolitical complications raised by further Russian involvement, Mr. Obama still said he’s hopeful the U.S. can work with Russia to fight the Islamic State, even as Moscow ramps up its direct aid to the Assad regime.

“The good news is Russia shares with us a concern about countering violent extremism and shares with us the view that [the Islamic State] is very dangerous,” he said. “So, despite our concerns with Russia in areas like Ukraine, this is an area potentially of converging interests.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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