• Hours After Russia Strikes U.S.-Backed Syrians, Kerry Shakes Foreign Minister’s Hand

    Secretary of State John Kerry held a joint press conference Wednesday with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as the Kremlin was planning and executing strikes on U.S.-backed rebels in Syria.

    “Who did the Russian military strike today?” A journalist asked Lavrov bluntly leading up to the meeting.

    Russia had launched its first Syrian airstrikes Wednesday morning, claiming the strikes were targeting terrorist groups presumed to be the Islamic State. Many immediately suspected, based on locations and reports from the ground, they were targeting U.S.-backed rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

    “Don’t listen to Pentagon about the Russian strikes,” Lavrov replied, just before Kerry arrived and shook his hand. The two then went behind closed doors to discuss the urgent need for military talks between the U.S. and Russia.

    Hours after Kerry and Lavrov’s meeting, the Wall Street Journal confirmed suspicions U.S.-backed rebels had been targeted. One of the strikes hit an area held by Syrian rebels armed and trained by the CIA.

    The CIA has been backing rebels in Syria since 2013 as part of an effort to combat the Islamic State and the Assad regime, and has a common enemy with Russia in the Islamic State. But Russia is also backing Assad, and made it clear in the strikes it will target all of his enemies.

    “These organizations are well known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria,” a spokesman for Putin said Thursday, indicating that if Russia targeted U.S.-backed rebels, it did so intentionally.

    So the Kremlin very well may have been planning its next attack on U.S.-backed rebels as Kerry was shaking hands with Lavrov.

    “The insanity of Wednesday ended with the most insane image of all: Kerry, standing beside his Russian counterpart, shaking his head in agreement,” wrote Russia expert Julia Ioffe in Foreign Policy. “Given that the Russians are now militarily pursuing objectives in fairly direct opposition to those of the United States, what was that image supposed to convey?”

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