Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the West of playing a "double game" with terrorist groups in Syria, where both Moscow and an international coalition are conducting separate bombing campaigns.
"It's always difficult to play a double game: declaring a fight against terrorists while simultaneously trying to use some of them to arrange the pieces on the Middle East chess board in one's own interests," Putin said at a meeting of political scientists in Sochi known as the Valdai Club, according to the AFP news agency.
"It is impossible to prevail over terrorism if some of the terrorists are being used as a battering ram to overthrow undesirable regimes," Putin added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to meet Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as their Turkish and Saudi counterparts, in Vienna on Friday for crucial talks on the Syrian conflict, a four-year war that has killed more 250,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
The high-level meeting follows the surprise visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Moscow for talks with Putin on Tuesday, the embattled leader's first foreign visit since 2011.
Russia — which has pledged to support Damascus militarily, much to the West's dismay — has insisted the air strikes it has conducted since September 30 in the war-torn country are hitting the Islamic State and other "terrorist" groups, and are being conducted at the Syrian leadership's request.
Washington and its allies, however, accuse Russia of targeting moderate rebels.
There is no need to play on words, to classify terrorists are moderate and non-moderate," Putin said on Thursday.
"What is the difference?" he added, suggesting that "in the opinion of some experts… so-called moderate bandits behead people moderately or gently."
During his encounter with Assad, Putin called for a political solution involving all groups to try to end the war, the Kremlin said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later declined to comment on whether Assad's future in Syria had been discussed during the encounter.
Assad, who last visited Russia in 2008, told Putin that the three-week Russian bombing campaign had helped to stop the spread of "terrorism" in his country.
The Russian strikes are reported to have killed 370 people so far, a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Tuesday.
Humanitarian organizations have deplored the effect of the bombing campaigns, with the International Committee of the Red Cross saying air strikes in Syria were disrupting the delivery of desperately needed aid to civilians.
AFP contributed to this report.