OXFORD, England — Defense Secretary Ash Carter accused Russia on Wednesday of sowing seeds of global instability and questioned whether Moscow genuinely wants a viable cease-fire in Syria.
In a hard-hitting speech at Oxford University, Carter emphasized deep skepticism about Russian intentions in Syria, even as Secretary of State John Kerry weighed more talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Their discussions last weekend, on the sidelines of an economic summit in China, failed to produce a nationwide cease-fire in Syria or a U.S.-Russian military cooperation agreement.
Russia is a firm supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and their joint military operation has sometimes targeted the anti-Islamic State rebels backed by the Obama administration. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kerry and Lavrov would hold their next round of negotiations Thursday and Friday. But U.S. officials indicated the earliest the talks could happen is Friday.
"Unfortunately so far, Russia, with its support for the Assad regime, has made the situation in Syria more dangerous, more prolonged and more violent. That has contributed to what President Obama this weekend called the 'gaps of trust' that exist between our two countries," Carter said.
Later, at a news conference in London, Carter said Kerry would not be making another try with Lavrov if there were no prospect for success. But Carter added, "We're a long way from getting there."
Carter accused Russia of being driven by "misguided ambition and misplaced fear." He said Moscow understandably wants to be seen as an important world power, but is undercutting its case by undercutting the work of others.
"It lashes out, alleging that it fears for its own viability and future," even though it should know that no country, including the United States, is trying to constrain its potential.
He seemed to allude also to suspected Russian involvement in hacking Democratic National Committee computers in the United States and otherwise trying to influence the American presidential election.
"Let me be clear, the United States does not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We don't seek an enemy in Russia. But make no mistake — we will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us. We will counter attempts to undermine our collective security. And we will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes."