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Lavrov: Islamic State Is Russia's 'Main Enemy'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his remarks on Islamic State in an interview with the Moscow-based radio stations Ekho Moskvy, Govorit Moskva, and Sputnik on April 22.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his remarks on Islamic State in an interview with the Moscow-based radio stations Ekho Moskvy, Govorit Moskva, and Sputnik on April 22.

Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov has described Islamic State (IS) group as Russia's principal foe, warning that "hundreds" of Russian nationals fighting alongside the militant group in Syria and Iraq could carry out attacks on Russian soil.

"I consider [IS] to be our main enemy right now, if only for the simple reason that hundreds of Russian citizens, hundreds of Europeans, hundreds of Americans are fighting in the ranks of IS, as well as citizens of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]," Lavrov told Moscow-based radio stations Sputnik, Ekho Moskvy and Govorit Moskva on April 22.

Lavrov warned of the threat of "blowback" from Russian nationals fighting alongside IS.

"They are already returning home, they fight and afterwards they rest, and just for fun they can wreak havoc at home," the Russian Foreign Minister added.

Lavrov's remarks that IS poses a significant threat to Russian domestic security is the latest in a series of warnings from Russian officials about the dangers of the militant group.

The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, said in February that around 1,700 Russian nationals are currently fighting with militant groups in Syria and Iraq. That figure is a massive leap from the 200 Russians Bortnikov said were fighting in Syria in June 2013.

On April 21, Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, warned that IS and similar extremist groups posed a threat far beyond the Middle East.

"We have already seen its manifestations in Denmark, France, Australia, and Canada," Churkin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also warned this month of the threat posed by Russian citizens who were fighting alongside IS in Syria.

Speaking on April 16 during his annual marathon phone-in session, Putin said there was no "direct threat" from IS to Russia, but he said that Russians were being trained by IS in the Middle East and could pose a risk if and when they returned home.

While Putin said that Russia's security forces were cooperating with their counterparts in the CIS, both Lavrov and Churkin said that international cooperation -- including with the United States -- was needed to combat IS.

Churkin talked about the need to "consolidate international efforts to combat the global challenge" of IS, saying that "antiterrorist action should be built on a solid basis of international law under the auspices of the UN Security Council."

Meanwhile, Lavrov used his radio interview to criticize the United States and its foreign policy in the Middle East.

Lavrov said that Russia had proposed adding IS to the UN Security Council's list of designated terrorist organizations, but the proposal was blocked by the United States, which argued that IS was a branch of Al-Qaeda.

"Why is this? Because they do not want to recognize that IS is the result of their actions in Syria and Iraq," Lavrov was quoted as saying.

The Russian Foreign Minister said that Moscow was arming Iraq and Syria to help those countries fight IS.

Russia had made a huge contribution to Syria in order to avoid a repeat of what had happened in Libya, Lavrov said.

Moscow, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has slammed the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, saying that the American-led air strikes against IS on Syrian soil are illegal because Washington and its allies have not asked permission for the military action from the Syrian government.

Lavrov said that the United States had been "increasingly turning to Russia with proposals to develop common mechanisms for interaction and alerts in the case of terror threats."

He said that Moscow would "certainly agree" to such proposals from Washington, if it was seriously interested in such arrangements.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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