Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday questioned US commitment to a shaky cease-fire in Syria, suggesting that Washington wasn’t prepared to break with “terrorist elements” battling Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The truce has largely held since going into effect on Monday, but both sides have alleged dozens of violations, and aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo -- a key opposition demand.
Russia has in turn accused Washington of failing to rein in the rebels, and on Saturday Putin asked why the United States has insisted on not releasing a written copy of the agreement. Officials have provided details of the agreement in press conferences, but have not released an official document, fuelling suspicions on both sides.
“This comes from the problems the US is facing on the Syrian track — they still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements,” Putin said during a trip to Kyrgyzstan.
“In my opinion, this comes from the desire to keep the combat potential in fighting the legitimate government of Bashar Assad. But this is a very dangerous route.”
He appeared to be referring to the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Nusra Front, which is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed Putin’s remarks during a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Lavrov noted the “refusal by an array of illegal armed groups to join the cease-fire,” and Washington’s obligation to “separate units of the moderate opposition from terrorist groupings,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
Under the cease-fire agreement, the U.S. and Russia would work together to target the Fatah al-Sham Front, as well as the Islamic State group, while Assad’s forces refrain from striking opposition-held areas.
But Washington has warned Russia that unless aid is delivered to Aleppo, it will not move ahead with the formation of the joint coordination center.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population since March 2011.