Russia criticized a decision by President Obama to lift some restrictions on supplying rebel groups in Syria and said the decision was hostile and could threaten Russian aircraft and military personnel in Syria.
U.S. President Obama signed on December 23rd the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal 2017 which includes appropriations for military activities of the Department of Defense and provides an extension of the Syria Train And Equip Program, allowing for the transfer of more advanced weapons to rebel groups in Syria facing attacks from ISIS and Syrian government forces.
In early December, President Obama lifted restrictions on the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which permits the U.S. to better equip moderate rebel groups in Syria, including the Sunni tribal security forces and Kurdish coalition fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that hope to wrest control of Raqqa from ISIS in northern Syria.
Turkey has voiced concerns about the U.S. supporting Kurdish coalition forces.
On Tuesday Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova criticized in a statement the newly approved National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 because it reaffirms the ban on military cooperation with Russia until it certifies “the Russia Federation has ceased its occupation of Ukrainian territory and its aggressive activities that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” and also abides by ceasefire terms of the Minsk Protocol in eastern Ukraine.
President elect Donald Trump has spoken about his desire for the U.S. to join military forces with Russia to combat ISIS in Syria.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement that the U.S. ban on cooperation with Russia can be removed in other countries if its in the national security of the U.S. but couldn’t be effective in Syria “where our American partners refused to maintain full fledged counterterrorism cooperation with Russia.”
Russia continues to label all rebel groups in Syria as “terrorist” and “jihadi” while accusing the U.S. of supporting anti-government groups in Syria which they claim are “not much different from the terrorist cutthroats,” according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
The U.S. has denied that it supports terrorist groups in Syria.
During the past year, Russia has provided Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with extra military support which has strengthened his power in Syria.