Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow "sees all the signs of genocide" in the murder of a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians by the Islamic State militant group.
IS released a video showing militants beheading 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya last month.
Lavrov made his comments on March 2 at a session on the protection of Christians initiated by Russia, Lebanon, and Armenia on the sidelines of the main annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Lavrov also said that IS militants were committing atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq, and of destroying Christian heritage sites and places of worship in the areas under its control.
"The terrorist groups rampant in Syria and Iraq have announced the creation of a so-called 'caliphate,' which has been accompanied by the destruction of dozens of Christian churches, including ancient shrines, and by the mass exodus of Christians," Lavrov said, according to Russian government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta.
The Russian foreign minister said that "entire cities, such as Mosul," had been almost completely emptied of their "traditional Christian presence."
Lavrov accused IS of committing crimes against Christians in such a way that prevented the full scale of those atrocities from becoming known.
"Christians, including priests, are being murdered, burned alive, sold into slavery, robbed, displaced from their native lands, and seized as hostages," Lavrov said.
Ukrainian Christians Also Persecuted (But Not By IS)
Russia has slammed the murder of Christians by IS previously, but has also used events to emphasize Moscow's political stance on Iraq and particularly Syria. In the wake of the beheading by IS of Egyptian Christians, for example, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the execution-style mass killing was "all a consequence of what has been done by Western partners."
In his March 2 comments, Lavrov also used the theme of Christian harassment and persecution by IS to reiterate Moscow's viewpoints. However, the Russian foreign minister directed his comments on the Middle East to a different destination than his deputy, neatly segueing from his point that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East by IS, to claiming that Christians are also being persecuted in Ukraine, albeit not by Islamist militants but by "radical nationalists who have taken the route of fanning sectarian strife."
"They are destroying Orthodox churches and monasteries, they are subjecting priests and the faithful to intimidation and harassment.... Many priests have fled to Russia to escape the threats of the extremists," Lavrov said.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk