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EU Says Russia Risking Peace Diplomacy In Syria

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EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

The EU says Russia's military intervention in Syria is putting peace efforts at risk, with the bloc's top diplomat calling Russia’s military strikes against Western-backed rebels a worrying "game changer."

EU foreign ministers meeting on October 12 warned Moscow to focus its military actions in Syria on Islamic State extremists and not target moderate opposition fighters.

"It has to be coordinated" among the U.S., the EU, and Russia, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said of the attacks in Syria. "Otherwise it risks being extremely dangerous, not only from a political point of view, but mainly from a military point of view."

Russian air strikes have backed moves by Syrian troops against all forces that oppose President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The EU ministers said in a statement that "this military escalation risks prolonging the conflict, undermining a political process, aggravating the humanitarian situation and increasing radicalization."

The criticism from Brussels comes a day after U.S. President Barack Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing poor leadership by supporting Damascus, despite Moscow's claims it is helping a legitimate government battle insurgents.

Obama said on October 11 that "Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally," the Syrian president.

"The fact that they had to do this is not an indication of strength," he said on the CBS network's newsmagazine program "60 Minutes."

"Resolving the underlying crisis is going to be something that requires ultimately the key players there to recognize that there has to be a transition to new government," Obama said in the interview recorded on October 6. "And in the absence of that, it's not going to work."

Syrian government forces reportedly made significant advances on October 11 against rebels thanks to Russia's air campaign.

Both Damascus and opposition activists on October 11 reported government gains in the northwestern province of Idlib and the neighboring province of Hama.

In an interview broadcast October 11 on Russia's state-owned Rossia-1 television, Putin said that Moscow's objective was to "stabilize the legitimate authority" of the Syrian president, and "create conditions for a political compromise" in Syria.

"When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital, then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital," he said.

Putin reiterated that Moscow will not deploy ground troops to Syria. He also denied that Russia's air strikes were hitting moderate opposition groups rather than IS militants.

Russia said on October 11 that its aircraft carried out more than 60 missions in the provinces of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, and Raqqa over the previous 24 hours, adding that the Islamic State (IS) group was its main target.

Syrian opposition figures and Western governments say Russia has targeted rebel groups -- including some trained and equipped by the United States -- that are not linked to IS militants.

Syrian state television and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on October 11 that government forces captured Tal Skik, a highland area in Idlib Province, with the help of Russian air strikes.

That brings Syrian government forces closer to rebel-held positions along the highway that links Syria's main cities. The area is held by a rebel alliance that excludes the Islamic State (IS) group.

In the northwest of Hama Province, regime troops and fighters from the allied Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hizballah are said to have captured the town of Al-Bahsa.

Abu Hamed, the head of the military bureau of Jabhat Sham, an insurgent group that operates mainly in Hama Province, said the Syrian forces made advances using tanks, heavy artillery, and new surface-to-surface missiles.

Washington accuses Assad of terrorizing his own population in his bid to remain in power and insists that he cannot be part of a postwar government in Syria.

Russia rejects the U.S. position, saying Assad and his military represent the best chance to defeat IS militants.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and CBS