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Putin Claims Russia Is Just Fighting ISIS in Syria — and U.S. Not Cooperating

Syria is becoming the setting for a Cold War-style proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, but both sides are saying that their priority is ISIS.
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With Syria becoming the setting for a Cold War-style proxy war between the United States and Russia, both sides are saying that their priority is to defeat ISIS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said his country does not have designs on exerting a stronger hand over the Syrian government.

"What we are trying to achieve is to contribute to the fight against terrorism, which is a threat to both the United States to Russia to European countries and the whole world," Putin said at an investment conference.

Putin brushed aside American accusations that his military's new bombing campaign was targeting non-ISIS fighters — including U.S.-backed rebels — in its attempt to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

President Obama says Assad must leave office in order for ISIS to be defeated. Putin argues that Assad must stay in power, at least for now.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that "countering Russia's involvement in Syria doesn't rate nearly as high on the scale" as battling ISIS, The Associated Press reported.

Putin said his administration, acting out of "respect," notified the United States in advance of its airstrikes and sought its cooperation on targets. But the United States wasn't willing, Putin said.

"We asked on the military level to give us the targets which they consider to be the terrorist ones for sure, 100 percent. But the answer was: 'No, we are not ready to do that,'" Putin said. "Then we thought and asked another question: 'Then could you tell us where we should not hit?' Again, no answer. So, what should we do?"

Putin also ridiculed a new U.S. attempt to arm anti-government rebels by airdropping munitions to them. The move came days after the United States ended its failed program to train and equip rebels. He suggested the supplies would end up in the hands of ISIS.

"The United States has recognized that it was a failure and right now they keep distributing ammunition, hardware, equipment," Putin said. "Who will get a hold of those? And it is not a rhetorical question."

A Pentagon official said Tuesday that U.S. military officials would hold a third secure video conference on Wednesday with officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense. The goal is to establish safety protocols for aircrews from both countries flying over Syria.