Russia urges Europe to end \'geopolitical games\' after Brussels attacks

Friday 18/03/2016
Conflict in Syria comes to the fore again

MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday called for Europe to drop its "geopolitical games" and unite behind efforts to fight terrorism, a day after bomb attacks in Brussels killed around 30 people.

"I really hope that Europeans, in the face of the terrible threat of terrorism that occurred yesterday in Brussels, will put aside their geopolitical games and unite to prevent terrorists from acting on our continent," Lavrov was quoted by Russian agencies as telling visiting German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Europe is facing a security crisis after Tuesday's triple bombing in Brussels, which came on the heels of the November bomb and gun assaults in Paris that killed 130 people.

Russia's call to unite against terrorism comes amid a diplomatic push over the five-year conflict in Syria.

Steinmeier was in Moscow for meetings with Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, while US Secretary of State John Kerry touched down in the Russian capital ahead of talks with the duo Thursday.

The West is looking to size up the Kremlin's game plan after Putin's surprise announcement on March 14 that Moscow was withdrawing the bulk of its forces conducting air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Moscow launched a bombing campaign in September saying they were striking the Islamic State group and other "terrorists" before they hit Russia, but the West said they mainly targeted Assad's more moderate opponents.

Steinmeier said last week that Russia's drawdown in Syria could increase pressure on Assad to "negotiate in a serious way", but peace talks with the opposition in Geneva have failed to make much headway.

"I personally cannot imagine that in light of 250,000 people killed and 12 million refugees, Assad can become a leader acceptable to all segments of the population," Steinmeier told Russia's Interfax news agency Wednesday.

An unprecedented ceasefire negotiated by Russia and the United States has largely held in Syria since February 27, but it does not apply to jihadists.

Many Russian officials, including Putin, have echoed Lavrov's call for unity in the fight against terrorism.

"The fight against this evil calls for the most active international cooperation," the Kremlin said Tuesday.

A Russian jet on its way from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort to Saint Petersburg was brought down in October by a bomb, killing all 224 people on board in an attack claimed by the Egyptian-branch of IS.

Ties between Moscow and the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War over Russia's intervention in war-torn Ukraine but the Kremlin's Syria gambit thrust Putin back into the centre of international diplomacy.

Other Russian officials and politicians have used the Brussels attacks to rebuke the West.

The outspoken head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted Tuesday that while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg was "battling an 'imaginary Russian' threat and stationing troops in Latvia, people are being blown up under his nose in Brussels".

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said she deplored "double standards" in the fight against terrorism.