Putin rejects military request to resume Aleppo bombing

Ilya Arkhipov and Stepan Kravchenko

President Vladimir Putin rejected a request from the Russian military to resume airstrikes against militants in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Kremlin said.

Putin “considers it possible” to continue a humanitarian pause on operations in Aleppo despite a request from the general staff to resume bombing in response to attacks from terrorist groups, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday on a conference call.

The president hopes the U.S. will use the suspension of the air campaign that began on Oct. 18 to fulfill its pledge to separate moderate Syrian rebels from terrorists, Peskov said. At the same time, Russia “retains the right” to use all necessary means to support the Syrian army and “prevent provocations by terrorist groups,” he said.

The halt to airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces followed growing international outrage over the attacks on Aleppo, where some 275,000 people remain trapped.The bombings prompted U.S. and European leaders to threaten possible sanctions and to warn that Russia may be committing war crimes. They followed the collapse of a cease-fire deal for Syria negotiated in September by the U.S. and Russia to try to end a war that’s killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe.

The pause means that civilians and militants who want to leave eastern Aleppo can continue to use corridors opened up by the Syrian government.

Militant Attack

Russia’s military made the request to resume bombing after militants tried and failed on Friday to break into eastern Aleppo using 20 tanks and 15 armored vehicles supported by artillery, Sergei Rudskoy, head of the operations directorate of the Russian general staff, said in Moscow, according to an e-mailed statement.

Russia and the U.S. are in consultations to stabilize the situation in eastern Aleppo, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Their top diplomats Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry discussed the situation in Aleppo by phone on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Peskov declined to say how long Putin may wait for the U.S. to meet its commitment to separate moderates from terrorists in Syria. The president will decide whether to authorize bombing based on information from Russia’s general staff, and operations may resume with or without warning, he said.

“We keep hearing Aleppo, Aleppo, Aleppo. But what is the issue here?” Putin told the Valdai forum of international experts and academics in Russia’s Sochi on Thursday. “Do we leave the nest of terrorists in place there, or do we squeeze them out, doing our best to minimize and avoid civilian casualties?”

There’s “no alternative. We need to fight,” Putin said. “If we keep retreating, we will always lose.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net, Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net.