MOSCOW — Russia warned on Monday that it was prepared to act unilaterally in Syria against groups that it said were breaking the cease-fire there, injecting a volatile new element into a conflict that has been calmer in recent weeks.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the country’s military was ready to strike as early as Tuesday against groups that it said were violating the cease-fire unless U.S. leaders agree to discuss a Russian proposal for how to maintain the peace. So far, Russian warplanes have been observing the cease-fire, U.S. officials say.
The ultimatum may be as much a negotiating gambit with the United States as it is a warning that Russia is about to act on the ground in Syria, from which it pulled a portion of its warplanes last week. The Russian military has sought close cooperation with the Pentagon in Syria; the Pentagon, angered by Russia’s actions both in Ukraine and in Syria, has held back. Secretary of State John F. Kerry is due to meet Thursday with Russian leaders in Moscow to discuss efforts to achieve peace in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that he would pull the bulk of Russia’s warplanes from Syria after their six-month deployment helped prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But as with other public announcements about Russian military deployments in recent years, the reality proved more complicated.