Russia's chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said on December 10 that the United States had provided financial and technical assistance to the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria in the past.
Speaking at a meeting of foreign military attaches Gerasimov set out Russia's position on a variety of issues relating to international security, including the situation in Syria and Iraq.
Gerasimov painted a picture of the rise of the Islamic State group against a backdrop of what he said was Western interference in the region. He blamed the United States and "leading Western countries" for causing "disastrous consequences" in a number of countries, including Libya and Syria, by involving themselves in what he called "the overthrow of the legitimate authorities" in those states.
The Russian chief of General Staff said that Washington and its European allies had stepped up their efforts for regime change in Syria by "increasing foreign aid to armed opposition groups, [and] increasing international political and media pressure on the Syrian leadership."
Just as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has done, Gerasimov made no distinction between the Islamic State group and Syrian armed opposition groups including the Free Syrian Army. Moscow's position throughout the conflict has been that all of the armed opposition groups in Syria are illegal terror groups. Via this position, Russia -- which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest ally -- has strongly opposed efforts by the United States and its allies to back moderate Free Syrian Army factions.
Referencing this position, Gerasimov said that there were "up to 70,000 militants of various nationalities" fighting with Islamic State and added that: "It is noteworthy that previously it was the United States that provided financial and technical assistance to this group in its fight against the Syrian government."
Noting that Washington and its allies were conducting air strikes on Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, Gerasimov implied that this was not enough to defeat the group.
"At the same time, White House statements have arisen [saying] that it is only possible to render a significant blow to this terrorist group with the help of a ground operation," he said.
Gerasimov also noted that the Islamic State group posed a regional threat, saying it had become "in essence a key element of radical Islam in the Middle East and has a tendency toward further growth."
The Russian chief of General Staff's comments come a day after Lavrov accused the West of "demonizing" Assad, including by "ignor[ing] the Syrian authorities in the fight against Islamic State."
Moscow has been making a diplomatic push for renewed "intra-Syrian" peace talks and has backed calls by the UN's special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, for a "freeze zone" in Aleppo whereby fighting would cease to allow humanitarian aid deliveries. This plan has been fiercely opposed by Syrian moderate and Islamist rebel groups, who believe that a limited cease-fire in Aleppo would amount to a win for the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces have been making a push to retake Aleppo, with Turkish military sources claiming that Assad's forces are apparently trying to push those left in the city toward Turkey.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk