Russia’s main concern in Syria is the fate of the country and not that of President Bashar al-Assad, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
He said Moscow wanted to ensure that any solution to the conflict in Syria must prevent the opposition and government forces just swapping roles and continuing to fight indefinitely.
“We are not concerned about the fate of Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there,” Reuters reported Putin saying during his annual news conference. “We are worried about a different thing - what next? We simply don’t want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities and become the opposition - and (we don't want) this to go on forever.”
He also denied that Russia was propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and stressed that Moscow was only seeking to avert a perpetual civil war.
“What is our position? Not to leave Assad's regime in power at any price, but to first (let the Syrians) agree among themselves how they should live next,” AFP reported him as saying.
“Only then should we start looking at ways to change the existing order.”
Putin argued that Russia’s call for dialogue was meant to avert “an endless civil war” between the armed rebels and government forces who still control most of the capital Damascus.
“We want to avoid (Syrian) disintegration.”
Putin’s comments came less than a week after Russia’s chief Middle East envoy said it appeared that Assad would not be able to fend off the rebels much longer.
The foreign ministry later denied an official shift in Russia’s position toward Assad and noted that Moscow still recognized the Assad regime.
Russia remains one of Syrian regime’s last major ally and has shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions aimed at punishing him for his use of heavy force against rebels.