Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for a "more serious" fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, amid reports that the militant group is present in Afghanistan and is expanding elsewhere.
"'Islamic State' is a structure that calls for a great deal more attention and a more serious reaction. Its emissaries have emerged not only in Syria and Iraq, where it has declared a so-called caliphate, but also in Libya and now in northern Afghanistan, which is a stone's throw from Central Asia," Lavrov told reporters on January 12 following talks with his Latvian counterpart, Edgars Rinkevics, in Moscow.
While he did not mention the United States or its allies directly, Lavrov's remarks are an implicit criticism of the efforts by the U.S.-led coalition against the IS group in Iraq and Syria. Moscow has sided with its ally, Bashar al-Assad, arguing that the U.S.-led air strikes against IS militants are a violation of Syrian sovereignty because Washington and its allies are acting without the consent of the Assad government.
Lavrov also played on regional fears of the threat posed by IS, particularly in Central Asia.
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan all have citizens who are fighting in Syria and Iraq including with the IS group, and all four states have expressed fears that the group is contributing to radicalization within their own borders.
These fears have intensified amid reports that the IS group is gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, a threat to which Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov referred in December 2014 when he asked his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for assistance in combating the threat of extremism in Central Asia.
Karimov said that "various representatives of the Islamic State group have penetrated into Afghanistan from Iraq and Syria" and expressed the concern that "armed extremism and radicalism are spreading widely in Central Asia."
While Central Asian states had warned previously of links between Afghanistan and the IS group, concrete evidence of Islamic State's attempts to recruit militants in Afghanistan emerged just this week.
The BBC reported on January 12 that a former Taliban commander from Helmand Province, Mullah Abdul Rauf, had declared his allegiance to IS. The deputy commander of the Afghan army unit in the area, General Mahmood, said that there had been reports of a new group that had replaced the Taliban's white flags with black IS flags. The group was trying to win support for IS, he said.
In his January 12 comments, Lavrov also linked the growth of IS outside of Syria and Iraq to last week's shootings by Islamist terrorists in the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher grocery store in Paris. Seventeen people died in the Paris attacks.
"From there [IS strongholds in Syria, Iraq, and beyond] these people interact with those who organize terror attacks in Europe," Lavrov warned.
Russian government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta noted that Lavrov had "shared his impressions" following his participation in the January 11 antiterrorism march in Paris, in which world leaders joined hundreds of thousands of French citizens to show solidarity for the victims of the deadly attacks, saying that "there is a growing understanding that this general threat [of terrorism] cannot be allowed to spread and deepen."
Hinting once again at a criticism of the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition in Syria and Iraq, Lavrov said that "the answer to terrorists should not be based on any personal preferences, personal insults, the desire to show who is in charge."
The answer to terrorism "should be based on a responsible analysis of the problem, on an understanding of the need for urgent interaction and that through political, diplomatic, intelligence, military and law enforcement means," Lavrov added.
Lavrov's comments on the war against terrorism go beyond the battle against the IS group, however. The "fight against terrorism" is the term used by Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran to refer to the Syrian government's fight against all armed opposition groups.
Russia is currently pushing for preliminary peace talks in Moscow later this month between its ally the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups. Both Moscow and Damascus have stressed that the talks should emphasize the "fight against terrorism."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk