By Michael Hernandez
America’s top diplomat urged Russia on Tuesday to address Syria’s humanitarian crisis, saying it is “urgent” for Moscow to help end the “critical” situation.
“Russia needs to join with all of us in understanding that this cannot go on,” John Kerry said before meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry.
“We are not blind to what is happening,” Kerry said. “We are all very, very aware of how critical this moment is, and Russia needs to contribute in significant ways to sustaining the ability of the opposition and others to come to the table and create an atmosphere within which you can actually have a negotiation.
“But they’ve made that very, very difficult over the course of the last days,” he added. Russia began an independent air campaign last September to strike what it calls terrorists in Syria, including Daesh.
But critics have maintained that Moscow’s strikes, predominantly in the northwest of the country, have served to strengthen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s battlefield positions.
The Syrian Army has made strides over the past few months with Russian air cover and the support of allied militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Most recently it has begun to seize positions long held by rebel forces around Aleppo.
The gains could serve to provide the Syrian government with the ability to besiege Syria’s second city, opponents have warned. "Russia’s activities in Aleppo and in the region right now are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation," Kerry said.
The city has been a flash point after rebels seized control of parts of the region in 2012.
The fighting has led hundreds of thousands to flee the once populous metropolis, and caused the deaths of thousands who remained.
The U.S. will approach a security conference in Munich that starts Friday "with great hopes that this will be a telling moment" for determining who is serious about brokering a political transition in Syria, Kerry said.
"They [Russia] have a major responsibility as a co-convener of the International Syria Support Group to create the framework within which that group can be successful and their word will be good," he said.