Russia said on Friday it had intensified air strikes against oil sites controlled by an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, but criticized the United States for refusing to join in.
Last Friday Russia proposed to the United States and its allies that they stage joint air strikes on Syrian rebels, including the militant Islamist Nusra Front, who are not observing a ceasefire, but Washington made clear it had little interest in the idea.
“The response received from the United States … does not envisage joint actions against terrorist organizations, which leads to further escalation of the conflict,” Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff’s main operations command, told a news briefing.
Meanwhile, the Nusra Front has partially restored its fighting efficiency, replenished stocks of weapons and ammunition and begun active military actions, Rudskoy said.
He said it was taking advantage of a previously announced cessation of hostilities in many locations, and of the fact that its units are often deployed in the same areas as the moderate opposition.
“Unfortunately, our American partners are not taking any decisive steps apart from persistent requests not to strike the groups of the Nusra Front, because ‘moderate opposition’ units may be located nearby,” Rudskoy said.
After discussing with U.S. experts the need to undermine the economic potential of the jihadists, Russian planes intensified strikes from May 20 against Nusra’s oil production sites and smuggling routes to Turkey, Rudskoy said.
But the key question remains unsolved, he said.
“Further delays by our American partners in resolving the issue of differentiating the opposition units it controls from terrorists … leads to the disruption of the peace process and resumption of military actions in Syria.”
Washington has consistently refused to join forces with Russia in Syria ever since Moscow launched its campaign of air strikes in September last year, accusing it of acting solely to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Western leaders have threatened to increase sanctions on Russia on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Greece.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK as well as Canada, the US and Japan said in a joint statement after the G7 summit in Japan on Thursday (26 May) that they “stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase the cost on Russia should its actions so require”.
They noted that the duration of existing sanctions was linked to Russia’s fulfilment of the so called Minsk peace plan for Ukraine, which involves Russian troops leaving Ukraine and restoring control of the border to Kiev.
“Sanctions can be rolled back when Russia meets these commitments”, they said. They also said they “recognise the importance of maintaining dialogue with Russia” on Ukraine and on broader issues, such as Syria, Islamic State and nuclear non-proliferation.
“In the context of the ongoing crisis between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, we reiterate that energy should not be used as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security”, the G7 added.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the situation in Ukraine was “discussed in great detail” and that she had “hope” of progress.
UK prime minister David Cameron said on Twitter that: “On Russia, the #G7 has agreed on the vital importance of sanctions rollover in June”.
US president Barack Obama said “we’ve started to see some progress in negotiations, but we're still seeing too much violence” in Ukraine. Shelling by pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine killed seven Ukrainian soldiers this week.
Donald Tusk, the head of the EU Council, who also attended the Japanese event, told media: “The test of our credibility at the G7 is our ability to defend the common values that we share”.
The G7 statement comes amid internal EU talks on whether to extend the duration of existing economic sanctions on Russia when they expire in July.