The Washington Post

U.S. criticizes Russia for preventing formation of coalition for possible military action in Syria

President Obama said Friday that he is considering a "narrow, limited act," against Syria after the country's alleged use of chemical weapons against its people. (The Washington Post)

The Obama administration lashed out at Russia on Friday ahead of a visit to that nation next week, blaming Moscow for standing in the way of the United States’ attempt to build an international coalition for potential military intervention in Syria.

“Because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said as he laid out the administration’s case against Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

During a tense week in which Britain’s Parliament pointedly refused to support a potential military strike, the administration’s focus on Russia marked another low point in the long-fraught relationship between the two nations.

Even before the Syrian crisis, President Obama had canceled a planned one-on-one meeting next week in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Vladi­mir Putin, citing a litany of differences, ranging from human rights to nuclear disarmament to Russia’s decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum. Instead, Obama will make his first visit to Stockholm before traveling to St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 economic summit hosted by Putin.

Obama now faces the prospect of attending the summit after having potentially ordering airstrikes against the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, which counts Moscow as a crucial ally. Obama said Friday that he has not made a final decision but is considering “a limited, narrow act” of military force.

Read the document


U.S. assessment on alleged Syrian chemical-weapon attack

Official U.S. government report on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against rebels on Aug. 21.

Senior administration officials reiterated during a conference call with reporters Friday that Obama has no plans to meet directly with Putin. But they said the tensions will not prevent the two countries from working together on job growth and economic development, the main focus of the two-day gathering.

The officials emphasized that diplomatic channels remain open, pointing to a series of economic and defense meetings between U.S. and Russian representatives in the past few weeks.

“We continue to be driven by mutual strategic interests,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk on the record. “We do not think cooperation should halt even as we have differences on tactics. Our relationship has often been marked by cooperation and contested policies; that’s not new for us.”

Experts said relations between the two countries are at a low ebb despite Obama’s attempt to reset the dialogue after his reelection last year. Obama denounced the Russian government’s new anti-gay laws during a news conference this month and poked fun at Putin’s body language, often interpreted by reporters as dislike for Obama.

“He’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” Obama said, adding unconvincingly that he and Putin have “very productive” meetings despite the outward appearances.

Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said this week that personal relations between Obama and Putin are worse than any U.S. president with their Russian, or even Soviet, counterparts in history.

“There’s a deep degree of disrespect,” Kuchins said. “It’s very likely that we could see this relationship muddle along at this, very, very kind of unpleasant level for the next three years until we’re looking at a new administration in the United States.”

Moscow has been unchanging in its position on Syria. It argues that toppling the regime could bring about unforeseen and undesirable consequences, and that U.S interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan only made things worse.

Obama placed calls Friday to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was rebuffed Thursday by parliament on Syria, and French President François Hollande, who has been supportive of a strong response to Assad. Obama also met Friday afternoon in the Cabinet Room with the presidents of three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — that are on Russia’s doorstep and often act as an irritant to Moscow.

Obama told reporters that the Baltics “are among our most reliable allies in NATO, and our commitment to their security is rock solid.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves then offered Obama a friendly boost on Syria: “The use of chemical weapons is deplorable. The attack demands a response. Those responsible must be held accountable.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Play Video
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.