MOSCOW, Russia – Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has sharply criticized US policy in Syria and offered direct talks on the framework of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which has been in force between the two countries since 1987.
The situation in parts of eastern Syria, controlled by the US-supported Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), remains “deeply disturbing,” Shoigu wrote in a letter to Pentagon chief James Mattis earlier this week.
Washington does little or nothing to restore peace and help the devastated region recover from the long war as its air strikes continue to murder civilians, the Defense Ministry said. He noted that at least 1,500 civilians were killed in recent months, while the SDF wiped out the last remaining pockets of ISIS resistance.
The Russian chief of defense described the difficulties the US-led coalition experienced in the protracted battle near Hajin in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor. It took six months for the Pentagon-backed fighters to expel militants from the small town who regrouped later in the villages along the Euphrates River.
In contrast, the Syrian army has demonstrated its ability to liberate areas in two weeks, Shoigu said.
The minister also emphasized that the recovery of the war-torn nation are hampered by the smuggling of oil and oil products from the areas controlled by the SDF. At the same time, the US military presence at Al-Tanf air base makes it more difficult to deliver aid at a large refugee camp in Rukban, Jordan, home to more than 50,000 Syrians, Shoigu wrote. He also claimed that the air base and the “armed gangs” around prevented the refugees from returning home.
In a separate letter to Mattis, Shoigu offered to launch an “open and meaningful dialogue” on the differences they have over the INF Treaty, which prohibits land-based missiles ranging from 500 to 5,500 km. Both sides accuse each other of violating the agreement.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Washington would undo the deal within 60 days if Russia did not “return to compliance.” Moscow, in turn, drafted a resolution for the UN Security Council in support of the INF agreement.
Shoigu emphasized that so far Moscow has received no official reaction from the Pentagon on its proposal to hold talks on the INF Treaty.