In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.
The U.S. move followed a threat last week from Secretary of State John Kerry after new Russian and Syrian attacks on the city of Aleppo. The State Department said Russia had not lived up to the terms of an agreement last month to restore the cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities.
"This is not a decision that was taken lightly," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments ... and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed."
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Berlin Wednesday as European leaders dangle the threat of fresh sanctions over Russia’s role in the bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo and raise pressure to revive efforts for peace in eastern Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is presiding over a summit with Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande to push for progress implementing a peace agreement in Ukraine. Merkel and Hollande will then confront him over Russia’s intervention in Syria a day after the Kremlin announced a temporary moratorium.
“I will do everything with Chancellor Merkel to convince Vladimir Putin to continue with this cease-fire,” Hollande told reporters earlier in Paris. Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the two leaders would raise the Aleppo siege "and who is responsible for them will be clearly pointed out."
Aircraft stationed on the decks of Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which recently arrived near Syria’s shores as part of a Russian battle group, have begun carrying out flights aimed at working out interaction with a coastal airfield, the ship’s captain reported.
The Russian Northern fleet battle group, consisting of Admiral Kuznetsov, the Pyotr Velikiy battle cruiser, two large anti-submarine ships Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov as well as support vessels, arrived in the Mediterranean in early November.