- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a staff writer for Foreign Policy, where he oversees FP's breaking news blog, The Cable. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
The United States has suspended plans to coordinate with Russia on counter-terrorism strikes in Syria, and talks with Moscow are over a cease-fire are definitely dead after Russia’s continued attacks on the besieged city of Aleppo, the State Department announced Monday.
“Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments” to stop bombing of civilian areas and allow humanitarian aid shipments, spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Monday, “and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed.”
The formal cancellation of cooperation between Washington and Moscow comes after Syrian and Russian planes plastered the country’s biggest city with high explosives, including strikes targeting hospitals. And coming after days of insistence by administration officials, especially by Secretary of State John Kerry, that a cease fire agreement could still be salvaged, it makes clear how far relations have deteriorated between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Hours before the State Department statement, Putin announced he had suspended a landmark, 2000 agreement with the United States to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium. The Russian strongman said he ended the program due to “unfriendly actions” and called on NATO to reduce its military presence in countries near Russian borders. Putin also called on the United States to cancel sanctions put in place after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Monday’s developments are the latest in a year-long effort by Secretary of State John Kerry to get Russia to assist in finding a political solution to the five-and-a-half year-old Syrian civil war. Kerry wanted Putin to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally, to ground his air force and allow humanitarian aid to enter the country to help civilians. In exchange, the United States said it would join with Russia to fight militant groups associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
That hasn’t happened. Russia and Syria ramped up their bombing campaigns in Aleppo after the start of a Sept. 12 ceasefire, and even mauled a U.N. aid convoy. Now, a political solution to the broader crisis appears increasingly elusive.
Roughly 275,000 civilians are trapped in rebel-held parts of Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. Hundreds of people there have been killed in the last week, according to international aid groups. War has been raging in Syria since 2011, with million of refugees fleeing the region.
“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” Kirby said. “The United States spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organizations operating in Syria.”
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