Russia warned there could be ‘unintended consequences’ if the U.S. does not engage in military-to-military cooperation with Moscow, as the Kremlin stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria.
Russia’s military build up in the region has drawn concern from the U.S. and NATO. Moscow says their goal is to help end terrorism in Syria, but the U.S. has warned that Russia’s involvement could exacerbate Syria’s multi-sided civil war and is concerned over Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Washington for cutting off direct military-to-military communication between Russia and NATO after the crisis in Ukraine last year.
He said such contracts were “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents,” Reuters reported.
“We are always in favor of military people talking to each other in a professional way. They understand each other very well,” Mr. Lavrov said. “If, as (U.S. Secretary of State) John Kerry has said many times, the United States wants those channels frozen, then be our guest.”
In recent days, U.S. officials have described what they say is an increase of Russian equipment and manpower, Reuters reported.
President Barack Obama said Russia’s involvement would not change U.S. strategy in the fight against Islamic State terrorists, which included U.S. planes leading an international coalition in airstrikes in Syria.
“But we are going to be engaging Russia to let them know that you can’t continue to double-down on a strategy that is doomed to failure,” he said at an event with military service members during a visit to Maryland, Reuters reported.
Recent intelligence reports have indicated that Moscow is sending anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. The system would be operated by Russia troops, rather than Syrians, a Western official said, Reuters reported.
U.S. officials have also said they believe about 200 Russian naval infantry forces were now stationed at an airfield near the Syrian city of Latakia, an Assad stronghold, and that number has increased in recent days.
Mr. Lavrov has said Russia was sending supplies to help Mr. Assad fight extremists and said Russia servicemen were in Syria primarily to help service equipment and teach Syrian soldiers how to use it.