UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said his Russian counterpart's explanation for how an aid convoy was bombed in Syria left him feeling "a little bit like they’re sort of in a parallel universe here."
Kerry, speaking at a long-scheduled high-level meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss Syria, expressed incredulity at the Russian denial of its role in the airstrike and urged his fellow foreign ministers to continue to press for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Ahead of the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was sure that Russia was not at fault and called for an independent investigation into the attack. The official Russian explanation has shifted multiple times since the strike was first reported — in its most recent comment, at the time of the meeting, Russia said the convoy was destroyed after its cargo caught fire. (Russia's defense ministry has since claimed that a US Predator drone was in the area.)
"The trucks and the food and the medicine just spontaneously combusted. Anybody here believe that?" Kerry asked the rest of the Council. “This is not a joke, we’re in serious business here."
US officials on Tuesday said Russian planes were the only ones in the air just before an airstrike that destroyed 18 out of 31 trucks in a joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy delivering humanitarian aid to a remote area in the country. UN officials on Tuesday told BuzzFeed News that all parties knew exactly what was being transported by the convoy and what route it was taking.
Kerry cited eyewitness reports, including one who said "the place turned into hell and fighter jets were in the sky," according to the secretary. Syria's UN ambassador to the UN, however, called into question the report, wondering how a person could see planes when "thousands of others" reported no planes.
The attack on the aid convoy came just hours after Syria unilaterally declared the end of a ceasefire negotiated by the United States and Russia. Days before, jets with the US-led coalition mistakenly bombed a group of Syrian soldiers. Kerry noted that the US had admitted that it likely committed that error, and he urged Russia to do the same about Monday's attack on the aid convoy.
In order to make it safe for aid to move throughout Syria, Kerry said, Russia and Syria must "ground all aircraft in key areas to allow for humanitarian aid to flow unimpeded."
"It's a moment of truth" Kerry said, for Russia, for Syria, and for the international community alike. "If we allow spoilers to choose the path for us," he said, "make no mistake my friends, the next time we convene here, we're going to be facing a Middle East with more refugees, more dead, more extremist, and more suffering on an even greater scale."
"The only choice is a ceasefire," Kerry stressed, "to provide the people of Syria a chance to breathe; to live."
Addressing Russia directly again, Kerry said the US still believes "there is still a way forward. Our shared task here is to find a way to use the tools of diplomacy to make that happen."