WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama has forcefully denounced Russia's new bombing campaign in Syria, declaring that Moscow's actions will lead it into a "quagmire" and make the crisis in the Middle East worse, not better.
Even as the Kremlin widened its bombings in Syria, striking Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) territory for the first time, Mr Obama said last Friday that Russia's military intervention "won't work" and that it would drive legitimate opposition groups underground and provide a recruiting tool for Islamic radicals.
In his first comments since Russia began bombing targets in Syria, which include opposition forces supported by the US, Mr Obama repeated his demand that any resolution of the four-year-old civil war must include the departure of Mr Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and long-time Moscow ally.
"We're very clear in sticking to our belief in our policy that the problem here is Mr Assad and the brutality he's inflicted on the Syrian people, and that it has to stop," Mr Obama said. He added that, while the US will work with "all parties" to broker a transition, they are "not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr Assad's behaviour".
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr Obama also bristled at domestic criticism that he has failed to articulate a workable strategy for pushing out Mr Assad and defeating ISIS.
"When I hear are people offering up half-baked ideas as if they are solutions or trying to downplay the challenges involved in this situation. What I'd like to see people ask is, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it?" he said. "Typically what you get is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo."
He rejected the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin had seized the initiative and outmanoeuvred the US. "Mr Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength, but out of weakness, because his client, Mr Assad, was crumbling and it was insufficient for him to simply send them arms and money; now, he's got to put in his own planes and his own pilots," he said.
Mr Obama added that the Russians do not have as many supporters in the crisis as the US does. "Iran and Mr Assad make up Mr Putin's coalition at the moment," he said. "The rest of the world makes up ours."
NEW YORK TIMES