Russia’s top diplomat condemned what he described as “an onslaught of belligerent revisionism” that threatens the international order in a rare personal criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump, reflecting growing tensions between the former Cold War enemies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at Trump’s policies in the Middle East, his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate treaty as well as his moves to ratchet up trade tensions in a speech Friday at the United Nations General Assembly.
And in an announcement certain to stoke U.S. concerns, Lavrov told reporters in New York later that Russia has already begun delivering advanced S-300 air-defense systems to Syria.
The annual gathering of world leaders has reinforced the divisions between Russia and the U.S. The two countries clashed over postwar plans for Syria, with Russia pushing the UN to help find funds for rebuilding the country, while the U.S. insists it should be overseeing a political transition away from Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Russia also joined forces with the European Union and China in a bid to safeguard trade with Iran from renewed U.S. sanctions.
Lavrov accused the U.S. of resorting to “political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force” in support of its “self-serving unilateral approach.” He vowed to do everything possible to rescue the landmark 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
With escalating U.S. sanctions against Russia over meddling in the 2016 presidential election -- resulting from Congressional pressure -- further worsening ties, efforts by Trump to cooperate with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, haven’t borne fruit.
The U.S. is at odds with Russia over Iran’s role in Syria as Assad’s main patron along with Moscow. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said this week that U.S. troops will stay in Syria as long as Iran and its proxies maintain a military presence there. Trump urged the General Assembly to help isolate Iran, accusing it of spreading “mayhem in the Middle East and far beyond.’’
Lavrov said it’s not realistic to keep the Iranians “within their borders” and that Iranian forces are in Syria at the invitation of Assad’s government.
The Kremlin announced on Monday that the S-300 missile defense systems will be delivered to Damascus within two weeks, raising the threat to Israeli planes, after the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by friendly Syrian fire last week. Russia blamed Israel, whose jets were attacking targets in Syria at the time. Bolton called the move a “significant escalation.’’
Lavrov meanwhile criticized what he described as Trump’s “persistent attempt to dismantle” the mechanisms for achieving a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, referring to steps such as moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.