Bitter words between US and Russian diplomats following mistaken coalition airstrike

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( – On the eve of a week of high-level events at the United Nations, U.S. and Russian diplomats ripped into each other over the weekend after a coalition airstrike targeting ISIS terrorists hit Syrian troops instead.

The Kremlin’s decision to demand urgent U.N. Security Council talks on Saturday night drew sharp criticism from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who accused Russia of “cheap point scoring” and “stunts.”

The Russian and Syrian governments said 62 soldiers had been killed in the airstrike near in Deir ez-Zor and another 100 injured.

U.S. Central Command said the airstrike had been halted while in progress after Russian officials said it was possible the target was Syrian military.

“Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” it said.

Australian aircraft were involved in the coalition action, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in New York “we regret the loss of life and injury to any Syrian personnel affected.”

Power, however, was not in a contrite mood. She told the Security Council that Moscow had not previously called an urgent council meeting – on Saturday night or any other day of the week – in response to the atrocities and “savagery” of its ally, the Assad regime.

In response to “some of the most systematic atrocities that we have seen in a generation,” Power continued, Russia was not only not interested in seeing them investigated but had used its veto “to block meaningful action [against the Syrian regime] – even though this is the most obvious threat to international peace and security that we’ve seen in a very long time.”

And then Russia a year ago escalated the conflict by launching an air campaign in support of Assad, Power added, “itself adopting some of the regime’s worst practices: hitting hospitals, hitting refugee camps, hitting markets without a single public expression of remorse. Seriously? They’re calling this emergency meeting? Really?”

In a direct swipe at Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova – who earlier said the airstrike showed that the Obama administration was colluding with ISIS – Power said she “should be embarrassed.”

Zakharova hit back in a mocking Facebook post, suggesting Power should visit Syria to see what is happening on the ground and learn what “embarrassed” means. Zakharova offered to accompany Power and to pay her expenses.

“Do say yes. Don’t be frightened. Nobody will lay a finger on you in my presence,” she wrote. “Unless, of course, your guys don’t again ‘mistakenly’ strike the wrong target. You’ll make lots of new memories. And find out what ‘embarrassed’ means in the process.”

Power’s Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, was also scathing – though more decorous than his ministry spokeswoman – suggesting that the U.S. was deliberately trying to derail a painstakingly negotiated truce process.

In line with that process, a U.S.-Russia joint implementation center, tasked to facilitate coordinated military action against both ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra  (now renamed Jabhat Fatah al Sham), was due to begin operating on Monday.

Churkin said if the U.S. wanted to carry out an effective strike against ISIS or al-Nusra it could have waited two more days until the JIC was operating – to ensure that it was “striking the right people.”

“Instead they chose to conduct this reckless operation. So it may well be, one has to conclude, that the airstrike has been conducted in order to derail the operation of the [JIC] and actually prevent it from being set in motion,” he charged.

The bitter war of words comes just days before a series of high-level gatherings in New York including the opening of the new U.N. General Assembly session and a leaders’ refugee summit hosted by President Obama.

The Kremlin announced late last month that President Vladimir Putin would not be attending this year’s events.

— Written by Patrick Goodenough