The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations slammed Russia’s military intervention in Syria on Thursday, saying it has made the Islamic State terrorists (ISIL) stronger and allowed them to seize more Syrian territory.
The Russian strikes, which began on September 30, have been “profoundly counter-productive,” often concentrating on groups fighting ISIL, Samantha Power told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the Middle East.
“By attacking non-extremist groups Russia has boosted, perversely, the relative strength of ISIL, which has taken advantage of this campaign by seizing new territory in rural Aleppo.”
Power added Russia’s intervention has “worsened an already dire situation,” and according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the air strikes have hit schools and markets around Aleppo and killed at least 100 civilians.
The United Nations has said the new offensive has forced as many as 50,000 people from their homes in southwest Aleppo city and 35,000 from Hama. “That’s 85,000 newly displaced in a relatively short period of time,” Power said.
“Let me be clear: aiding and abetting [Syrian leader Bashar al-] Assad’s military as it targets the very groups we need to bring to the negotiating table will only prolong the conflict and push a political solution further from reach,” she added.
Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin only touched on his government’s military offensive briefly in his comments to the council, saying Moscow is acting at the request of the Assad government.
Moscow is a close ally of Damascus and does not share the Western view that Assad has become an illegitimate leader.
But speaking to reporters afterwards, he expressed surprise at Ambassador Power’s remarks, saying “in these circumstances there is always a propaganda war going on” and that Moscow is conducting its military offensive “with great transparency.” He said he did not have any confirmed reports of civilian casualties.
Churkin criticized the U.S.-led coalition, which has been conducting anti-ISIL air strikes over Syria for more than a year, saying “they have been bombing with no visible progress."
“I think the policy which the United States has been conducting is basically a policy of endless conflict,” he said, “because it did not produce any realistic prospect of the conflict being resolved.”
Churkin said the U.S. goals of toppling Assad and preparing “so-called moderate fighters” have been unrealistic.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, will meet in Vienna. Ambassador Power said Washington hopes the meeting “will result in Russia re-committing in words and in action to a political solution for Syria.”