Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a stinging attack on US policy in the Middle East on Thursday, accusing Washington of backing terrorism and playing a “double game” in the Middle East.
In a speech at the annual gathering of the Valdai Club, a group of Russian and international analysts and politicians, Putin said the US had attempted to use terrorist groups in its own interests.
“It’s always hard to play a double game: to declare a fight against terrorists, but at the same time try to use some of them to move the pieces on the Middle Eastern chessboard in your own favour,” said the Russian leader.
“There’s no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate. I would like to know what the difference is.”
Western capitals have accused Moscow of targeting moderate rebel groups during its bombing campaign in Syria, which Russia says is mainly aimed at targets linked to the Islamic State. However, Putin’s talk of “playing with words” and other statements by government officials suggest Moscow believes all armed opposition to Assad is a legitimate target.
Putin received Assad at the Kremlin on Tuesday evening and underlined on Thursday that he considers the Syrian president and his government to be “fully legitimate”.
He said the west was guilty of shortsightedness, focusing on the figure of Assad while ignoring the much greater threat of Isis.
“The so-called Islamic State has taken control of a huge territory. How was that possible? Think about it: if Damascus or Baghdad are seized by the terrorist groups, they will be almost the official authorities, and will have a launchpad for global expansion. Is anyone thinking about this or not?”
This year, the Valdai Club met at a luxury hotel in the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana, one of the venues for last year’s winter Olympics.
Putin arrived at the venue in a bright green Lada, part of an effort to promote the domestic automobile industry. He arrived late, keeping the assembled delegates waiting for nearly two hours before speaking.
A survey released on Thursday suggested that Putin’s approval rating had hit a record high of almost 90%, boosted by the Syria air strikes. The president’s approval ratings, according to the state-run pollster, are now at 89.9%, up from 58.8% in January 2012, prior to a crackdown on opposition and the annexation of Crimea.
“Such a high level of approval for the work of the Russian president is linked, in the first instance, to events in Syria, to Russian air strikes on terrorist positions there,” the polling agency, VTsIOM, said in a statement.