The top diplomats of France and Russia have been engaged in a rare row regarding the claiming of credit in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as the roles played by the two countries in the ongoing military conflicts in the Middle Eastern and North African region.
Accusing Russia of hyping up its campaign against the Islamist extremists in Syria, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed in an interview with French news outlet BFM TV that the Russian military was claiming undue credit for the defeat of the group – a victory the Russians “arrogated,” according to the top diplomat – when, in fact, the “international coalition” under U.S. leadership had been responsible for driving the group out of Syria. The foreign minister also chided Russia's military for belatedly joining regional allies such as the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah in the battle to liberate Deir Ezzor.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova – in one of her characteristically acidic Facebook status updates – mocked the French foreign minister with a reminder of the Western allies' dismal recent record of military adventures in the Arab world.
"The Western partners have been saying in the recent days that it was not Russia but them, the coalition, who defeated Islamic State in Syria. The last to say this was French Foreign Minister Mr. Le Drian," she wrote on her Facebook profile.
“Our (diplomatic) properties were seized in the United States, the medals we won in the Sochi Olympics were taken away, and now they've decided to capitalize on our military achievements?”
"Dear Sirs, stop it! Your successes are Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Come on, be proud of them."
The Russian Defense Ministry also chimed in, expressing “bewilderment” at Paris' most recent claims while noting that the defeat of the Islamic State group was a result of the combined actions of the Syrian government forces and its allies: "With support of the Russian Aerospace Force, the Syrian armed forces liberated from IS terrorists hundreds of settlements and returned under control of the legitimate leadership practically the entire territory of the country."
The ministry also wryly noted that over the course of more than three years of activity by the U.S.-led coalition, it only recently had managed to deliver its first blows against the Islamic State group in Syria in the form of the “mass bombing of Raqqa and its civilians.”
This most recent war of words followed consecutive announcements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, who both claimed that the Islamic State group had faced a “complete rout” on the eastern and western banks of the Euphrates River – a claim quickly denied by the U.S.-led “coalition” heads in the Pentagon.
"The U.S.-led coalition, not the Russian Federation or Syrian Regime, is the only force that has made meaningful progress against (the Islamic State group). Those claims are incorrect," a Pentagon spokesperson told Russian outlet Sputnik. The head of the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve's press office also claimed that the militants have “yet to be cleared from that area” surrounding the Euphrates.
Russia's military mission in Syria in 2015 began at the official request of Damascus during the height of the civil war and turned the tide of the conflict against rebel groups fighting to oust the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.
Iran, Russia and Turkey have coordinated activities to act as a guarantor of peace talks in Syria which have taken place in Astana, Kazakhstan. The three countries have established de-escalation zones across the war-stricken country to mitigate violence and gradually end fighting on the ground.
Western governments and nongovernmental organizations like the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have alleged that Russian air strikes have killed dozens of civilians in recent air strikes, an allegation Moscow has denied. The Russian military, in turn, has accused the U.S. of resorting to indiscriminate “barbarian bombing” of populated civilian centers like Raqqa while allowing Islamic State group militants to operate "under its nose" with relative freedom as a buffer against Syrian government forces.