Russian President Vladimir Putin, sensing weakness in President Barack Obama’s response to his country’s military moves in Syria, escalated his anti-American rhetoric this week by saying Obama’s Syria policy is weak and lacks objectives leaving Russia free to increase bombing of rebel strongholds in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
During a Thursday during a visit to Astana, Kazakhstan – a country that borders Russia and falls within his orbit of power – Putin told reporters that:
“I don’t really understand how the U.S. can criticize Russia’s actions in Syria if they refuse to have direct dialogue.” “The basic weakness of the American position is that they don’t have an agenda, though we’re keeping the door open” for high-level discussions with Washington, he said.
Sensing policy paralysis in Washington over Middle East issues in general and the Syrian question in particular, Putin offered to send a delegation, led by Putin lieutenant Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to Washington to explain Russia’s military campaign against Islamic State.
The offer was met by silence according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week.
At the same time, the Interfax news service quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igo Konashenkov as saying that Russian warplanes flew 33 missions and made 32 airstrikes in the past 24 hours against Islamic State positions in Syria’s Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor provinces.
Pressing his advantage, Putin said on Tuesday that some countries (US) had “oatmeal in their heads” for failing to understand that Russia’s airstrikes seek to defeat terrorism while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed “regret” over the American rejection of high-level talks.
President Obama sent out White House press secretary Josh Earnest to tell reporters (using an acronym for Islamic State) that:
“We’ve said that we’re not interested in doing that as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort,” “Russia has their own agenda and it’s an agenda right now that they’re pursuing on their own.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter issued a tepid response to Russia’s military activity in Syria saying that Russia was wrapping itself in a “shroud of isolation” over Syria and the conflict in Ukraine and that supporting Assad “will inflame and prolong the Syrian civil war.”
U.S. officials were silent on the fact that keeping the Syrian dictator in power is exactly what Putin wants to regain a permanent presence in the Middle East that it has not had since the end of World War II.