US defense bill 'directly threatens' security of Russian military in Syria – Russian FM spokesperson
The latest National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Barack Obama is a "threat" to Russians in Syria, Moscow says, as the bill "openly stipulates the possibility" of delivering more weapons which might "soon" end in the hands of terrorists.
Washington's decision to supply weapons, including portable air defense missile systems, to militants in Syria "directly threatens the aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, other Russian military personnel and the Russian Embassy in Syria, which has been shelled more than once," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Tuesday.
Moscow views the decision as "hostile," the diplomat added, saying that the outgoing Obama administration "appears... to create problems for the incoming Trump administration and complicate its relations on the international stage, as well as to force it to adopt an anti-Russia policy."
Saying that the American "selective approach" to joint security efforts with Russia "cannot be effective," the ministry stated that in Syria its American partners "refused" to fully cooperate in fighting terrorism.
"Instead of joining forces to cut short the sway of all forms of extremism there, as we suggested long ago, Washington has decided to deliver military assistance to anti-government groups, which are not much different from the terrorist cutthroats," Zakharova said.
By introducing its new Act, Washington "is bound to see" that its weapons provided for the so-called "moderate opposition" will "soon find their way to the jihadists" from Al-Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, Moscow warned.
"This can only be described as sponsoring terrorism," the statement said.
Zakharova's comments also touched upon the Act's sections on US ballistic missile defense, saying that in that field Washington's plans "are designed to disrupt its nuclear parity with Russia."
Saying that Obama's Act to fund the Pentagon in 2017 has overall anti-Russian "instructions," the Foreign Ministry contested Washington's allegations of Russia's "aggression" toward NATO and Kiev.
"It is unclear how Russia can threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of NATO member states, when it is our American partners and their allies who have enhanced their military activities" close to Russian borders, Zakharova said. Moscow has to take such actions into account when planning its own moves, she added.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner, however, denied that the US intends to supply the Syrian armed opposition with portable air defense missile systems.
"Our position on MANPADS [man-portable air-defense systems] has not changed. We would have very deep concern about that kind of weaponry getting into Syria," Toner told journalists during a press briefing Tuesday.
"The fact is that we're not providing any kind of MANPADS ... to the Syrian opposition,” he said, countering Zakharova’s earlier statement that the National Defense Authorization Act may pave the way for such deliveries.