Amid collapsed diplomatic efforts over Syria and increasing tensions with the United States, the Russian government is beginning emergency response exercises on Tuesday that will include the participation of thousands of government officials and many millions of citizens who will respond to a mock nuclear attack or other large-scale catastrophe.
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The four-day drill will reportedly include 200,000 rescue professionals, tens of thousands of emergency vehicles, and an estimated 40 million civilians from around the country.
“Our priority during the drill is to train evacuation of the civilian population from potentially-risky areas,” Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov, who oversees all civil defense in Russia, told the Interfax news agency. “The main goal of the drill is to practice organization of management during civil defense events and emergency and fire management, to check preparedness of management bodies and forces of civil defense on all levels to respond to natural and man-made disasters and to take civil defense measures.”
The exercise, versions of which have been held in the country since 2012, take place following an announcement by Russia that it will pull out of a long-term plutonium disposal agreement if the U.S. and its NATO allies do not reverse a recent military build-up in eastern Europe and the Baltic countries.
The emergency drills also comes on the heels of the announcement by the U.S. State Department on Monday it was severing diplomatic communications with Russian over the deteriorating situation in Syria following the collapse of a cease-fire agreement and an intensifying assault by Syrian and Russian armed forces against the rebel-held city of Aleppo.
“The United States is suspending its participation in bilateral channels with Russia that were established to sustain the cessation of hostilities,” announced State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Monday. Kirby said it was “not a decision that was taken lightly” as he blamed Russia for failing to “live up to its own commitments” on the joint effort.
Countering the narrative put forth by Kirby at the State Department, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued that many U.S. officials had sought to ruin the Syria deal with Russia from the very beginning.
“Regrettably, from the very beginning there have been many of those, including in the US administration, seeking to break down these agreements,” Lavrov said Tuesday. “And it is still more regrettable that those who are against political settlement of the Syrian crisis, against the implementation of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and who are openly seeking to employ a force scenario ultimately managed to do that yesterday.”
Lavrov called the current situation “regrettable and deplorable,” and criticized the U.S. for its failure (or inability) to separate rebel factions from extremist militias allied with Al Qaeda or to help secure a key route, including what’s known as Castello Road, heading into besieged sections of Aleppo—both key parts of the brokered cease-fire deal.
“Due to internal contradictions,” Lavrov explained, “the United States has turned to be unable to implement its liabilities under out agreements not only in what concerns separation of the so-called moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra [an Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group recently renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham] but also in what concerns the extremely clear, concrete liabilities on unblocking Castello Road as a major route to solve Aleppo’s humanitarian problems.”
And as Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, explained to Al Jazeera, “Washington simply did not fulfill the key condition of the agreement to improve the humanitarian condition around Aleppo.” Now, she added, “After failing to fulfill the agreements that they themselves worked out, they are trying to shift responsibility on to someone else.”
In the end, said Zakharova, “It all essentially came down to a simple question – who are Jabhat al-Nusra, who is behind them, and why can’t Washington fulfill its promise to divide the terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition?”
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