US-Russian tensions broke out in undiplomatic fashion in an unlikely place Thursday: the State Department briefing room.
What began with a series of tough, if suggestive, questions from a correspondent for Russian government-funded news ended with department spokesman John Kirby delivering an uncharacteristically severe indictment of Russian military activity in Syria and press conduct.
Kirby also unloaded on the RT channel and its reporter, Gayane Chichakyan.
“I can’t believe that you aren’t embarrassed to ask these questions,” Kirby said several minutes into the back-and-forth with Chichakyan, whose questioning has previously prompted sharp — if more restrained — exchanges. “You have to be looking at these questions and almost laughing to yourself, don’t you? They’re absolutely crazy.”
The subject was the ongoing Turkish-Iraqi spat over Turkish military forces in Iraq. Turkey has stationed troops near Mosul since 2014, but the arrival of additional servicemen last week prompted an uproar in Baghdad, forcing Turkey to halt the new deployment.
Chichakyan asked if the US was somehow responsible because it wants nations to send personnel into Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State.
Kirby said all U.S. military assistance in Iraq is coordinated with Iraq’s government, and any suggestion otherwise is “just a completely baseless charge.”
“I don’t think it’s worth having any more discussions about it,” he said.
But the conversation continued.
When Chichakyan asked why the U.S. was essentially saying, “It’s none of our business,” Kirby shot back, “Again, another ridiculous question.” He said the US was letting Turkey and Iraq work out their differences so everyone else can focus on fighting IS — “which, by the way, the Russians aren’t doing.”
Washington says Moscow’s airstrikes since September have focused on shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and not, as the Russians claim, with defeating IS.
After Chichakyan demanded to know which of his questions were “ridiculous,” Kirby expanded his critique.
“You can ask whatever you want. … You can do that here in the United States,” he said. “But I don’t see you asking those same questions of your own government about ISIL in Syria. And I would really like to see those questions get asked.”
Chichakyan told The Associated Press after the briefing, “I am not embarrassed. I think I asked good questions,” she said.