Russian plans to launch new strikes on parts of war-ravaged Syria are being met with contempt in Washington, which is accusing Moscow of trying to show off its naval capabilities at the expense of innocent civilians.
Officials in Russia's Defense Ministry told the Interfax news agency Tuesday that new strikes against Islamic State terror group targets on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo would come "within the next few hours."
A source in the ministry said the strikes would include aircraft from the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, as well as cruise missiles from other ships located off the Syrian coast.
The planned strikes could coincide with the U.S. presidential election, potentially coming as the first voting results are released. Still, U.S. officials declined to read anything into the timing.
Instead, a senior administration official who declined to be identified told VOA the potential strikes were in line with Moscow's continuing military support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite talk of supporting a political solution.
"The comments from the Russian Ministry of Defense suggest they are more interested in the world seeing Russia's naval capabilities in action than the world seeing Russia live up to its word," the official said. "An escalation would make it harder to resolve the brutal civil war in Syria and raise more doubts about Russia's commitment."
Other U.S. officials also questioned Russia's intentions.
"There are no ISIL positions in the immediate vicinity of Aleppo," a U.S. intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The U.S. has repeatedly accused Russia of using claims of striking IS as cover for attacks on rebel forces battling the Syrian regime and its allies, and the official said the potential strikes around Aleppo would seem to be more of the same.
"Russia has largely ignored ISIL targets in favor of going after the moderate opposition," the official said. "That's probably who they will continue to hit, along with innocent children and other civilians."
The regime, backed by Iranian-led militias and Russian airpower, launched an offensive in mid-September to try to reclaim all of Aleppo from Syrian rebels. In recent days, those rebels have attacked Syrian regime forces from the west, in a strategy apparently aimed at dividing the government artillery units laying siege to the eastern half of the city.
Monitors say the rebel strategy has led to an uptick in government casualties, while United Nations observers have sharply criticized rising civilian deaths.
For its part, the Syrian military reported more than 80 deaths since rebels launched their offensive last week. That toll has not been confirmed, and it was not clear Tuesday whether the latest reported fatalities were civilian or military.
Fighting also raged Tuesday north of the city, where monitors reported the deaths of more than 70 civilians, including 25 children.