President Barack Obama said Thursday he does not trust Russia to cooperate militarily with the United States on ending or slowing the civil war in Syria but that the proposition must be tested to try to bring an end to the conflict.
At a Pentagon news conference, Obama also criticized Russia for its continuing support of Syrian government attacks against opposition forces and its sieges of populated areas like Aleppo. He said Russian actions raise “very serious questions” about Moscow’s commitment to pulling the situation “back from the brink.”
His administration is exploring expanded military cooperation with Russia in Syria that could include intelligence sharing, a proposal that some American defense officials have publicly expressed deep concern about. Skeptics fear the Russians will take advantage of U.S. intelligence sharing to further support the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Obama has said has lost legitimacy to lead.
Asked why he trusted Russian President Vladimir Putin to cooperate, Obama replied: “I am not confident that we can trust the Russians and Vladimir Putin, which is why we have to test” them.
He said Russia must show it is willing to work to reduce the violence and focus the fight on the Islamic State group and other extremists. He accused Russia of failing to take the necessary steps to do that, adding that deteriorating conditions make it imperative for Russia to show it is serious now.
If it does not, “Russia will have shown itself very clearly to be an irresponsible actor on the world stage that is supporting a murderous regime and will have to answer to that on the international stage,” Obama said.