Russia denies it sabotaged Syria talks

Russia blasts the West for saying it sabotaged Syria peace talks by militarily backing the Damascus regime.

Arutz Sheva North America ,

Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin
Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin

Russia on Friday curtly rejected Western accusations that it had sabotaged Syria peace talks in Geneva by militarily backing the Damascus regime's offensive in Aleppo, AFP reported.

"It's in bad taste. This is not a good time for recriminations," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters as the UN Security Council was about to begin closed door consultations on Syria.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed the council on his decision to suspend the Geneva negotiations until February 25.

Churkin defended the Russian air strikes carried out around Aleppo in support of regime forces as they advanced on rebel fighters.

"It is not a Russian escalation but intensified efforts by the Syrian government to fight the terrorists," he was quoted as having said, adding that sieges had been lifted on certain Syrian communities in recent days.

Churkin said he was "hopeful" the UN-mediated "proximity talks" in Geneva between representatives of the regime and the opposition, would resume before February 25.

His British counterpart Matthew Rycroft criticized the Russian military campaign, blaming it for the breakdown in the talks.

"He needs to look in the mirror and understand where the responsibility lies," he said of Churkin. "The opposition needs to see that we mean it when we say we want to build their confidence."

"Russians need to do what they said in the first place: to be in Syria to fight Daesh," added Rycroft, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

"If they did that, yes, we would be cooperating very effectively," Rycroft said, according to AFP.

Earlier on Friday, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia's air strikes in Syria targeting rebel forces are "undermining" efforts to find a non-military solution to the war.

"What we have seen is that the intense Russian air strikes mainly targeting opposition groups in Syria are undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict," Stoltenberg said as he arrived for talks in Amsterdam with EU defense ministers.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made similar comments on Thursday, demanding that Russia stop bombing the Syrian opposition and implicitly blaming Moscow for the collapse in peace talks.

French ambassador Francois Delattre on Friday said his government fully supports de Mistura's decision to suspend the talks, and condemns the "brutal" Russian-backed Syrian offensive.

"One cannot expect the opposition to negotiate with a gun to their heads," he told reporters, according to AFP.

Paris remains committed to a "credible negotiation" but "the negotiations cannot be a smoke screen allowing the regime to continue quietly its massacres," Delattre said.

Diplomats said that in the closed door consultations de Mistura reiterated that the Syrian opposition had demanded the lifting of sieges, a halt to air bombardments, the freeing of prisoners and better humanitarian access.

But, he was quoted as saying, "Everyone saw that violence on the ground was increasing while we were conducting the talks."

"The Syrian people need to feel that this time there is really an improvement on the ground," diplomats quoted him as saying.

AFP contributed to this report.