US President Barack Obama warned on Friday that the recent Russian air strikes in Syria to support Bashar al Assad regime would hurt Russia.
“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire,” Obama said in a press conference at the White House.
Russia has been conducting air strikes in Syria since Wednesday, targeting mainly the rebels fighting against forces loyal to Assad regime in southern and western regions of the country.
Russia started the air strikes immediately after an authorisation from the Russian parliament on Wednesday, initially claiming to target ISIS militants.
US officials and Syrian opposition activists said Russia is extending its mission to hit non-ISIS targets, with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying the air strikes took place where there were probably no ISIS militants.
Kremlin confirmed on Wednesday that they have been targeting non-ISIS groups fighting against the regime.
"The goal [of the Russian operation] is to help the Syrian armed forces in their weak spots in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist and extremist groups," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying to the Russian media.
Obama said that the Russian air strikes against the Syrian rebels is hurting the chances of a resolution by weakening the opposition and strengthening ISIS.
“Russian policy is driving those folks underground or creating a situation in which they are de-capacitated, and it’s only strengthening ISIL [ISIS]. And that’s not good for anybody,” Obama stressed.
US-led coalition against ISIS issued a statement on Friday, appealing to Russia to cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition forces and target only ISIS militants.
US and Russian positions on Syria have been divergent since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
While the US is adamant that Assad must not be included in the solution process, Russia insists the embattled regime leader should play a role in the transition phase. Washington has warned Moscow that attempts to support the Assad regime will be counterproductive.
Obama reiterated US position that Assad cannot not be part of the solution in Syria “because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians.”
“He has been willing to drop barrel bombs on children and on villages indiscriminately, and has been more concerned about clinging to power than the state of his country,” Obama said talking about Assad.
Syrian civil war claimed more than 250,000 lives, forced over 4 million to flee the country and internally displaced more than another 7 million.