Russia, US quarrel over Kyiv, converge on Syria
A pro-Russian rebel walks towards a building occupied by pro-Russian rebels and turned into firing position near the Donetsk airport in Donetsk. AP PhotoRussia and the United States have engaged in a war of words over the tension in Ukraine, but U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarks putting the fight against Islamists in the focus of his Syria policy have been welcomed by Moscow.
Russia has responded disparagingly to Obama’s annual State of the Union address, claiming it showed that the United States wanted to dominate world affairs.
“Americans have set a course for confrontation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. “Obama’s address yesterday shows that there’s just one thing at the heart of (their) philosophy: ‘We are number one’ and the rest should acknowledge that.”
“This is a bit out of date and does not correspond to modern realities,” Russia’s top diplomat added in televised remarks.
“It shows that the United States wants to dominate the world,” he said, adding that “being first among equals” was not enough for Washington.
In his keynote speech on Jan. 20, Obama said that “big nations can’t bully small,” a reference to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
He praised U.S. policies towards the Kremlin over Ukraine, saying they left Moscow isolated and its economy in tatters.
Lavrov struck a condescending note, saying attempts to isolate Russia would fail and Washington’s “aggressive foreign policy” would one day become a thing of the past.”I think it will pass,” he said.
The Russian minister also denied new accusations by Kyiv that it had sent soldiers and weapons to east Ukraine and held out hope of progress at talks on the conflict in Berlin despite renewed fighting.
Kyiv accused Russian regular forces of attacking its troops in eastern Ukraine on Jan. 20, one of its boldest assertions yet of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Lavrov praises ISIL focus
But at the same time Lavrov appeared to commend Obama for what he called Washington’s growing realization that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants presented the most serious threat in Syria.
“The task of fighting these terrorists has been called the most important one,” Lavrov said, referring to the U.S. president’s address.
“It’s good that this understanding is growing. What’s most important is to translate this into practice soon.”
Obama asked U.S. lawmakers to give him updated war powers to use American military might to go after the ISIL.
Moscow has long argued that radical militants – and not the regime of its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – present the most danger to regional security. In contrast, Washington has argued that Assad should step down.
The New York Times said this week that Washington now appeared to be supporting the idea of “more gradual change,” a shift now focusing more on the ISIL instead of the al-Assad government. Lavrov said the article was noteworthy and suggested that it be translated into Russian.