Russia’s Putin reaffirms support for Syria’s Assad


putin-assad-cartoonRussian president Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed his country’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and says he opposes any use of external force to try to end the Syrian civil war.

Mr Putin showed no sign of wavering in his policy of trying to shield the Syrian president from pressure from the West in a four-and-a-half-year conflict that is estimated to have killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions.

“Our fear is that Syria could plunge into the same situation as Libya and Iraq,” Mr Putin said in response to questions at Russia’s annual economic forum in St Petersburg.

“We don’t want that … in Syria.”

The Russian president said the US policy to counter Islamic State (IS), which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, had so far had “lamentable” and “tragic” consequences.

“The United States supports Iraq, supports … the army. With two or three strikes IS has captured so many arms… [that] now IS is armed better than the Iraqi army. And all this is happening with the support of the United States,” he said.

Washington has backed rebels seeking to oust Mr Assad and is now trying to build a moderate Syrian opposition to fight IS.

But Mr Putin said Russia was “ready to work with Assad so that he engages in a process of political change”, adding Russia would not call on him to step down.

“We are ready to work with the president to ensure a path towards political transition so as to … move away from an armed confrontation,” Mr Putin said.

“But that should not be done with the use of force from the outside.”

Russia hosted talks in April between the Syrian government and members of the domestic, Damascus-tolerated opposition, but the absence of key exiled opposition groups meant there was no progress in resolving the conflict.

On Iran, Mr Putin said he believed world powers and the Islamic republic would soon sign an agreement curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

“I think the signing should take place in the nearest future,” he also said, adding implementation of the agreement would take about six months.
ABC News