Russia's Foreign Ministry continues to push for the resumption of intra-Syria talks that include Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In its latest bid to promote its Syria policy, on November 17 Moscow pointed to a recent report by the UN into the Islamic State (IS) group's rule of terror.
The report, published by the UN Independent International Commission of Enquiry on November 14, painted a shocking picture of life under IS control and concluded that the extremist group made "calculated use of public brutality" including public beheadings, stonings, and shootings, and sought to "subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey."
Noting the bleak picture the report painted of IS rule in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it demonstrated Russia's position that the "main threat to Syria, the Middle East, and North Africa is terrorism and the joint fight against it should be primarily directed at the efforts of the Syrian government, the moderate Syrian opposition, and the international community."
As part of its Syria policy, Russia has frequently called for an "intra-Syria" dialogue that would include its ally, Assad, as well as what it termed the "moderate opposition." Moscow pushed for the moderate Syrian opposition, in the form of the Syrian National Coalition, to attend the first and second rounds of the Geneva II peace talks at the start of this year.
The issue of "fighting terror" -- meaning armed Islamic rebel factions in Syria, not only IS -- has formed a key element of Russia's Syria policy and its attempts to mediate negotiations between the Assad government and the opposition.
In January, Russian media reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the Syrian government was "ready to work with the other party" to fight Islamic terrorists.
Moscow's strategy has been very clear: to insist that the Assad government is a natural and key player in the "fight against terror."
This strategy is continuing in the light of the rise of IS. In its latest statement in response to the UN report on IS, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that "Damascus has made an important contribution to opposing the terrorist threat."
Russia used the report to both criticize the U.S.-led coalition against IS -- by saying that coalition air strikes have killed Syrian civilians -- and to promote its own strategy of renewing talks between the Assad government, the moderate opposition, and the international community.
"From the report it clearly follows: in order that the fight against terrorism actually serves the aims of defending human rights, the international community must act collectively in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2718." The first was adopted in August and condemns human rights abuses by extremist groups in Syria, while the second was adopted in September and reaffirms that terrorism is a serious threat to international peace and security.
Moscow insisted that the "joint fight against terrorism" must be "one of the key themes of dialogue between the Syrian government and a representative delegation of the Syrian opposition."
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement also referred to a proposal by the UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who said last week that the shared threat of IS could promote a truce between the Syrian government and various rebel factions in parts of Syria, including Aleppo.
Moscow noted de Mistura's proposal last week, saying that there was a need to "continue the Geneva process and inter-Syrian dialogue."
However, while Moscow continues to push for peace talks involving the Syrian government, the United States has ruled out any alliance with Assad to fight IS. U.S. President Barack Obama said on November 16 that any such alliance would only weaken the international coalition against IS.
"Assad has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of his citizens. As a consequence, he has completely lost legitimacy with the majority of the country. For us to then make common cause with him against IS would only turn more Sunnis in Syria in the direction of supporting IS and would weaken our coalition," Obama told reporters after the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk