Kerry calls for war crimes inquiry
U.S. blasts Russia on Syrian attacks, hacking of DNC
WASHINGTON — Acrimony between Washington and Moscow heated up even further Friday as Secretary of State John Kerry called for Russia to be investigated for war crimes because of its bombardment of civilians in Syria, and the Obama administration publicly accused Vladimir Putin’s government of computer hacking that was “intended to interfere with the U.S. election.”
Together, the statements marked another sign that U.S.-Russia relations are spiraling downward toward an enmity not seen since the Cold War.
Kerry, using some of his toughest language to date, cited another bombing overnight of a Syrian hospital that he said had killed 20 people and wounded more than 100.
He blamed the Russiabacked government of Syrian President Bashar Assad; the two allies have been pounding rebel-controlled sections of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, for days, scut- tling Kerry’s efforts to impose a cease-fire.
“These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. And those who commit these would and should be held accountable for these actions,” Kerry said ahead of a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“They’re beyond the accidental now — way beyond. Years beyond the accidental,” Kerry added.
Russia and Syria are using “a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives,” he said.
Kerry’s comments — and an angry retort from Moscow — are the latest in a ratcheting up of hostile threats and counterthreats between the two powers.
At last month’s U.N. General Assembly, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, publicly accused Russia of “barbarism.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. suspended bilateral cooperation with Russia over Syria because of what Kerry said was Moscow’s refusal to heed a cease-fire and instead relentlessly attack civilians.
Putin, at the same time, withdrew Russia from a key nuclear pact it had signed with Washington more than Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia and Syria are using “a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody ... who is in the way of their military objectives.” a decade ago.
Putin has repeatedly flexed his military muscle in the Middle East in an attempt to regain a dominant role in the region — while warning the U.S. not to attack Assad’s military or face consequences.
Responding to Kerry’s latest comments about a war crimes investigation, Russia said that the U.S. was simply trying to distract from its own failures in the region.
“It is very dangerous to play with such words because war crimes also weigh on the shoulders of American officials,” Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswom- an Maria Zakharova as saying
Kerry and Ayrault discussed a draft resolution France hopes to bring forward at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting over the weekend. The resolution calls for an immediate halting to the bombing of Aleppo and the free passage of humanitarian aid to besieged enclaves. Russia has already labeled the draft “unacceptable” and will likely veto it.
“Tomorrow will be a moment of truth … for all the members of the Security Council,” Ayrault said, speaking through an interpreter, alongside Kerry.
“Do you, yes or no, want a cease-fire in Aleppo? And the question is in particular for our Russian partners.”
Kerry and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, agreed to a partial cease-fire last month, but it quickly fell apart.
It would have included new military cooperation between the two nations in targeting terrorist groups.
That is off the table now, and the State Department says “all other options” are under consideration.
The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow and Damascus of “indiscriminate” bombing of civilian targets, while Russia claims it is targeting only “terrorists.”
Russia also claims the U.S. has failed to uphold its part of the bargain, which included attempting to separate jihadi factions, including the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, from more moderate rebel groups that the U.S. backs.
Separately, the Obama administration officially blamed the Russian government for attempting to interfere in the U.S. election by hacking computers used by political groups, including the Democratic National Committee.
In a statement, the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security for the first time publicly said they were “confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.”
The goal of “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process,” the statement said.
The DNC is not identified in the statement, but a U.S. official confirmed it was one of the victims targeted by the Russian government.
The assessment also determined that only “Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities ... based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts.”
Previously, intelligence officials had privately blamed Russia, but would not say so openly.
The DNCdisclosed it had been hacked in June, and a large number of internal emails soon were published on the website of WikiLeaks. The FBI confirmed in July that it was investigating the intrusion.
The Clinton campaign has said that “an analytics data program maintained by the DNC, and used by our campaign and a number of other entities, was accessed as part of the DNC hack.”