The U.S. Department of Defense has hit back at Russian claims that the U.S. military is about to launch missile strikes on government-held districts in Syria's capital Damascus.
A spokesman for the department told CNBC Tuesday that Moscow is complicit in Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's crimes in the war-torn country.
"We urge Russia to stop creating distractions and compel the Assad regime to stop brutalizing innocent Syrian citizens and allow much-needed aid to reach the people of East Ghouta and other remote areas," the spokesman said.
"By enabling the Assad regime's brutality, Russia is morally complicit and responsible for Assad's atrocities. It is impossible to ignore the growing body of evidence that Syria is continuing to use chemical weapons on its own people — a clear violation of international law."
Earlier Tuesday, the Russian military threatened action against the U.S. if it led airstrikes on Damascus. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the armed forces of Russia, was widely reported as saying Moscow had "reliable information" about militants preparing to falsify a government chemical attack against civilians.
It would then use such an attack as "an excuse" to launch missile strikes on government districts in Damascus, he said, adding that Russia would "take retaliatory measures both over the missiles and carriers that will use them."
Approached by CNBC for a response to the allegations, the U.S. Department of Defense was unequivocal in its criticism of Russia. The spokesman said: "As (former) Secretary Tillerson said in Paris in January, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the countless Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria. Russia's failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its ability and will to resolve the overall crisis."
The comments come as Assad's regime continues to carry out airstrikes over the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta just outside Damascus.
The United Nations Security Council had demanded a ceasefire in Syria two weeks ago to allow nearly 1,000 sick and wounded civilians to leave so they can seek urgent medical treatment. On Monday, the U.S. threatened to "act if we must" if the UN ceasefire resolution continues to be ignored.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Hailey said Monday that the U.S. was drafting a new ceasefire resolution with "no room for evasion" and warned that America was prepared to act.
The U.S. defense department noted that Haley's comments were appropriate. "As U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said yesterday, the Russians have proven themselves untrustworthy, unable and unwilling to hold to the U.N. ceasefire agreement."