Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the West of playing a “double game” with “terrorist” groups in Syria, where Moscow and a US-led coalition are conducting separate bombing campaigns.
“It’s always difficult to play a double game: declaring a fight against terrorists while simultaneously trying to use some of them to arrange the pieces on the Middle East chess board in one’s own interests,” Putin said at a meeting of political scientists in Sochi known as the Valdai Club.
“It is impossible to prevail over terrorism if some of the terrorists are being used as a battering ram to overthrow undesirable regimes,” Putin said.
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov yesterday was to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as their Turkish and Saudi counterparts, in Vienna for crucial talks on the Syrian conflict, a four-year war that has killed more 250,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
The high-level meeting follows the surprise visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Moscow for talks with Putin on Tuesday, which was the embattled leader’s first foreign visit since 2011.
Russia — which has pledged to support Damascus militarily, much to the West’s dismay — has insisted the air strikes it has conducted since Sept. 30 in the war-torn country are hitting the Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups, and are being conducted at the Syrian leadership’s request.
However, the US and its allies, who are conducting a separate bombing campaign in the country, say Moscow’s strikes are aimed at Western-backed moderate rebels fighting al-Assad.
“There is no need to play on words, to classify terrorists as moderate and non-moderate,” Putin said.
“What is the difference?” he said, suggesting that “in the opinion of some experts ... so-called moderate bandits behead people moderately or gently.”
During his encounter with al-Assad, Putin called for a political solution involving all groups to try to end the war, the Kremlin said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later declined to comment on whether al-Assad’s future in Syria had been discussed during the encounter.
Al-Assad, who last visited Russia in 2008, told Putin that the three-week Russian bombing campaign had helped to stop the spread of “terrorism” in his country.
While the Syrian leadership sang the praises of Moscow, the White House castigated Russia’s intervention, calling it “counterproductive.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense on Thursday said it had struck 72 “terrorist” targets in Syria over the previous 24 hours, claiming to have destroyed the combat capability of the main terrorist groups operating in the country.
“As a result of Russian air strikes, the main forces of terrorist groups, made up of the best-trained terrorists, have lost combat capability. Their command and resupply system has been disrupted,” senior military official Andrei Kartapolov told Russian news agencies.
Kartapolov said the strikes — which targeted the governorates of Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor — had destroyed a bridge over the Euphrates River used for moving supplies to fighters from Iraq.
Putin said that strikes had given a “positive result,” but added: “Is it enough to be able to say that terrorism in Syria is defeated? No, we need to make more serious efforts in order to make such a claim.”
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