Russia said Thursday it has no plans to change its strategy in Syria after the U.S. accused the Kremlin of primarily hitting opposition groups with airstrikes instead of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. The remarks from Russia’s Defense Ministry are the latest in the war of words between the two sides as the U.S. pushes for a ceasefire and aid access to the beseiged northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
“We have lately heard advice from the Pentagon on the necessity to change our strategy in Syria to ‘help’ the United States attain political transition of power there. We will remind especially for such advisors that the aim of our operation in Syria is to destroy terrorism – a direct and clear threat to security of our country and the world,” said Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, according to Russian news agency Tass. “We never had, and never will have, any other ‘strategies.’”
Officials from the U.S. government criticized Russia’s airstrikes Wednesday. The Kremlin began its airstrikes at the end of September amid Western accusations that Russia had entered the nearly five-year conflict in order to help prop up its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“They say they want to fight ISIL and al-Nusra, but they are hitting groups that are ready to fight ISIL,” said Brett McGurk, a State Department official, using another name for ISIS. “This is where we just have to be honest: Seventy percent of their airstrikes are against the opposition and many of those opposition groups are ready to fight ISIL.”
Russia said Thursday none of its aircraft were within 12.5 miles of Aleppo Wednesday accusing members of the U.S.-led coalition of bombings. The U.S. denied these charges, CNN reported.
Diplomats were scheduled to meet in Munich Thursday to try to revive Syrian peace talks that stalled soon after they began, in early February. American officials have blamed increased Russian airstrikes on the faltering talks, with Assad’s troops gaining ground in intensifying fighting around the strategic city of Aleppo, the largest city in the Middle Eastern country.
Over 250,000 people have died in the war in Syria, with millions more fleeing to neighboring states and Europe.