When earlier this month, Russia suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons grade plutonium in response to what it said were "unfriendly acts" by the United States, it was mostly an act of window dressing: there was little in execution terms left under the treaty and the announcement was mostly symbolic, hinting at the ongoing deterioration in diplomacy between the two powers. However, when it was reported on Friday that Russia had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander SS-26 missiles to Kaliningrad in immediate proximity to central Europe in response mostly to recently encroaching behavior by NATO, things got decidedly more serious and will likely leed to even further retaliation by NATO and western powers.
So to clarify Russia's precarious position vis-a-vis the US, earlier today Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Russian state TV's First Channel that he had detected "increasing U.S. hostility towards Moscow and complained about what he said was a series of aggressive U.S. steps that threatened Russia's national security."
The interview, which according to Reuters is likely to worsen already poor relations with Washington, Lavrov blamed the Obama administration for what he described as a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties.
"We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia," Lavrov told Russian state TV's First Channel.
"It's not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security."
Lavrov reeled off a long list of Russian grievances against the United States which he said helped contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust that was in some ways more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War, among which first and foremost the Russian Foreign Minister pointed out that NATO had been steadily moving military infrastructure closer to Russia's borders and lashed out at Western sanctions imposed over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.
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Next, reiterating a warning voiced by the Russian defense ministry made last Thursday in which Russia warned that any US strikes on the Syrian army could result in war when it stated that "Russia's S-300, S-400 defenses in Syria are up and running" Lavrov said he had heard that some policy makers in Washington were suggesting that President Barack Obama sanction the carpet bombing of the Syrian government's military air fields to ground its air force.
"This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets," said Lavrov, and cautioned that he hoped Obama would not agree to such a scenario. He further accused the U.S. military of "deliberately struck Deir Ezzor base to sabotage U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria."
Lavrov also slammed US strategy regarding Aleppo and once again suggested that the US was supporting the Al-qaeda linked Al-Nusra terrorist organization: "Moscow doesn’t see any facts that the US is seriously battling Al-Nusra [now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham],” Lavrov said and noted that Russia is suspicious about Washington’s calls for Russia and the Syrian Air Force to cease their bombing runs against terrorists in Aleppo.
“And it’s also suspicious that they call on us and the Syrian air force not to fly over Aleppo because, yes, the main force of Al-Nusra front is there, but there are also allegedly representatives of the ‘moderate opposition,’ who are surrounded and have nowhere to go except to Al-Nusra,” Lavrov said.
“So don’t touch Al-Nusra, because it is not humane in relation to the normal guys [‘moderate opposition’], and we will fight Al-Nusra later,” Lavrov said, as if mimicking Washington officials. “And this ‘later’ never comes. [Washington] promised to separate these normal guys from Al-Nusra back in February,” he added.
Cited by RT, Lavrov said that he has repeatedly asked US Secretary of State John Kerry if the US has some special plan for Al-Nusra Front. "I asked Kerry if [the US] has some hidden plan to save Al-Nusra… so that at some point to make it a main force to overthrow Assad. He swore that this was untrue, and that they are really fighting Al-Nusra."
Lavrov noted that, though US fighter jets frequently carry out attacks on Islamic State militants, the efficiency is quite low. "US bombers very often return to the Incirlik Air Base [in Turkey] or to other bases they use, with unspent ammunition. There is a high frequency of flights, but the efficiency is very low. Some estimates put it at 15 to 20 percent," he said.
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Meanwhile, on Saturday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) vetoed two rival resolutions proposed by Russia and France on dealing with the escalating situation in Syria, and the war-torn city of Aleppo, in particular. The French proposal called for “upgraded” coordination of monitoring of the situation in Syria and reactivating the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo. One of the key points of the proposal was putting a halt to Syrian and Russian bombing raids in East Aleppo. Russia, together with Venezuela, voted against the proposal with China abstaining. It was the fifth time that Russia used its veto to block UN action to end the five-year war in Syria, which has claimed 300,000 lives.
Russia, in turn, submitted a counter-resolution on Syria to the UNSC, in which Moscow called for bringing an immediate halt to the violence in war-ravaged Aleppo, but not for a ceasing anti-terrorist strikes there. Monitoring should then be evaluated by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), the document said. The proposal also stressed the urgent need to a separate the ‘moderate rebels’ from terrorist groups like Al-Nusra in Aleppo, as was agreed upon between Moscow and Washington on September 9 in Geneva.
This proposal, too, was rejected by the security council after Britain, France and the United States voted against the Russian measure that called for a ceasefire but did not mention a halt in the air strikes. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council presidency, said the two votes represented "one of the strangest spectacles" at the Security Council because all 15 members knew from the outset that they would fail.
Moscow has insisted that any peace plan for Syria and Aleppo, in particular, will not bear fruit until the US-backed rebels clearly distance themselves from Al-Nusra. Moscow is certain that Washington doesn’t want a military scenario in Syria, Lavrov said. “I am sure that US Secretary of State john Kerry and President Barack Obama wouldn’t welcome such a move [military scenario]. Obama has repeatedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he stands for a political solution to the crisis,” he said.
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But back to the key phrase of Lavrov's interview, which was "Aggressive Russophobia" exhibited by the US, the minister said it affects Russia’s national interests and endangers its safety and security, prompted Moscow to suspend the Russia-US deal on plutonium disposal, Lavrov said. We noticed “aggressive Russophobia,” which is now in the core policy of the US towards Russia, he said.
“It’s not rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps which really concern own national interests and endanger our security. This NATO enlargement and [location of] NATO military infrastructure next to our borders…,” he said.
“This deployment of US heavy weapons [next to the Russian border]… and the deployment of a missile defense system – these are all a display of unfriendly, hostile actions,” Lavrov said.
He concluded with the stark warning that "the Russian need to have nuclear arms for protection against US is a most negative & dangerous result of Washingtons influence on world stabilty."
And now, in the aftermath of the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear-capable weapons in proximity to central Europe, a move which Washington will promptly retaliate against, we await what NATO's "nuclear" response to the latest move by Russia will be, and how the Kremlin will counterrespond to that escalation as the "arms race" part of the second Cold War is truly upon us.