Russia Fumes Over State Dept’s Syria ‘Body Bags’ Warning

By Patrick Goodenough | September 30, 2016 | 4:17am EDT
State Department spokesman John Kirby warned this week that the continuing Syrian civil war could prove costly for Russia. (Photo: State Department)

( – State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday rejected as “bogus” accusations by Russian officials that he was inciting terrorism by warning that Moscow’s failure to stop its aggression in Aleppo may lead to terror attacks in Russian cities and Russian troops being shipped home in body bags.

Kirby made the comments at a briefing Wednesday, when asked what the consequences would be for Russia if it failed to heed international calls to stop – and pressure its Assad regime ally to stop – bombing parts of Syria’s biggest city.

He replied that the civil war would continue, terror attacks against Russian interests would continue, Russia may lose more aircraft, and “continue to send troops home in body bags.”

To official Russian ears, the remarks sounded like a threat – even incitement of terrorism, in keeping with the Kremlin’s narrative that the U.S.’s support for some anti-Assad rebels in Syria amounts to collusion with terrorists.

“We cannot interpret this as anything else apart from the current U.S. administration’s de facto support for terrorism,” Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as saying.

“These poorly-veiled invitations to use terrorism as a weapon against Russia shows the political depths the current U.S. administration has stooped to in its approach to the Middle East and Syria,” he added.

The allegation also came from Kirby’s counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, who told a weekly briefing the comments could not be seen as anything other than “a call to action” to the terrorists.

If the U.S. had any information on possible terrorist attacks being planned in Russian cities, she added, it should immediately inform Moscow.

At the defense ministry, spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov called Kirby’s comments “the clearest admission from the American side that the alleged opposition in the Syrian civil war is a U.S.-controlled terrorist international.”

At Thursday’s departmental briefing, Kirby said his earlier comments were neither a threat nor incitement.

“They’re not things that we haven’t said before,” he said. “The question was: What would be the consequences to Russia for not being serious about meeting their commitments? And I said what I have said, the secretary has said, many times before: That the consequences are more war, more bloodshed.”

“And it’s Russian troops that are in that war, not U.S. troops,” Kirby continued.

“I’ve seen claims that I was trying to incite terrorism, and that’s just completely bogus,” he said. “That’s not at all the point that I was trying to make.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry threatened during a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to end U.S.-Russia engagement on the Syria conflict unless Russia and the Assad regime stop the air attacks in Aleppo.

Kirby’s “body bag” comment came in response to a question from a reporter who asked what consequences there would be for Russia if it fails to comply –  “other than Secretary Kerry won’t talk to them on this particular issue.”

“The consequences are that the civil war will continue in Syria,” Kirby replied, “that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests – perhaps even Russian cities.”

“And Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft,” he continued. “The stability that they claim they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive.”

The latest war of words comes as Russia marks the first anniversary of the beginning of its airstrike campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Over the past ten days, the administration has accused Russia and the Assad regime of actions in Syria that could violate international law.

For its part, Russia accuses the U.S. of not applying pressure on the rebel groups which it supports, to disassociate themselves from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (now calling itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.)

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