Russian President Vladimir Putin has used a planned visit to Egypt to make a scathing criticism of the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, accusing the United States and its Western allies of being responsible for the Syrian crisis as well as the military conflict in Ukraine.
In comments widely reported in the Russian media on February 9, and attributed to an interview with Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper, Putin said the efforts, strategy and tactics of the U.S-led coalition against IS in Syria and Iraq do not match the scale and nature of the militants.
"Air strikes cannot cope with [that threat]," Putin was quoted as saying by Interfax.
The Russian president also took the opportunity to reiterate Moscow's position that the U.S.-led air strikes against IS in Syria are unlawful, because Washington did not ask permission from Syrian President (and Russian ally) Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow has consistently -- and frequently -- repeated this line, as has Damascus. In recent weeks, both Russia and the Assad government have extended that position with calls for the United States and its allies to cooperate with Damascus over IS.
In his February 9 comments, however, Putin did not repeat these calls but merely criticized the United States for "double standards," saying that Washington was "refusing to cooperate with the legal authorities" in Syria, while noting that the United States has cooperated with the Iraqi government over anti-IS activity in Iraq.
Putin also accused the United States of creating the problem of IS in Syria and Iraq because of Washington's "interference" in those countries.
"What is happening in Syria and Iraq is the result of coarse, irresponsible external interference in the affairs of the region, the unilateral use of force and double standards, dividing terrorists into 'good' and 'bad,'" Interfax quoted Putin as saying.
Beyond reemphasizing Moscow's insistence that the United States should cooperate with the Assad government (and thus, in effect, recognize it as legitimate), Putin's condemnation of the United States and its allies for "double standards" and "interference" is part of a series of sharp criticisms of the West and particularly Washington. These criticisms come amid increasing pressure on Moscow from the United States and the European Union to drop support for separatists fighting in Ukraine.
On February 7, Putin said that following the collapse of the Soviet Union a new world order had emerged that was dominated by "one undisputed leader who wants to remain such."
Just as Putin blamed the Syrian crisis, and the rise of IS, on "U.S. interference," the Russian president has accused the United States and its allies of causing the crisis in Ukraine. In his interview with Egypt's Al-Ahram, Putin said that the military conflict in Ukraine "emerged in response to the attempts of the USA and its western allies...to impose their will everywhere."
Putin is visiting Egypt on February 9-10, his first trip to the Arab world's most populous country in a decade. According to Russia's TASS news agency, the Russian president is scheduled to meet his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the evening of February 9, while the main program of the visit will occur on February 10.
While the United States has not responded directly to accusations from Russia -- and Moscow allies Iran and Syria -- that the air strikes against IS are insufficient, Washington has said that the strikes are having a "devastating" effect on the militants. Stuart Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said last month that the air strikes had "taken more than half" of the IS's leadership.
Putin's criticisms of the United States over Ukraine come in response to U.S. denunciations of Moscow. Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power slammed Putin via Twitter for overseeing what she referred to as a "Russian occupation plan" in Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has also accused pro-Russian rebels fighting in Ukraine of participating in a land grab.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk