Putin signals no Syria policy shift

Putin signals no Syria policy shift

Putin signals no Syria policy shift

Putin is seen in a motorized hand glider with a young crane nearby at the Kushevat ornithological station as he takes part in a scientific project aiming to preserve Red Book crane species by showing the young birds their flying route. EPA photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled that Russia is not ready to shift its stance on Syria, and suggested that Western nations are relying on groups such as al-Qaeda to try to drive President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Putin was asked whether Moscow should rethink its stance on Syria after vetoing three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to pressure al-Assad to end violence, in an interview broadcast yesterday by the Kremlin-funded Russia Today TV channel. “Why should only Russia re-evaluate its position?” he said. “Maybe our partners in the negotiation process should re-evaluate their position.”

“Because if you recall what happened in recent years ... you will see that far from all of our partners’ initiatives ended the way they wanted them to,” he said, in reference to Western involvement in countries such as Libya.

Priority is ending violence

The Kremlin chief added he could not understand how outside powers could be discussing steps on the ground such as no-fly zones and further support for the opposition, when the Syrians themselves had not yet chosen their own political course. “To us, the most important thing is to end the violence, to force all the sides in the conflict ... to sit down at the negotiating table, determine the future, and ensure the security of all the participants in the domestic political process,” Putin said.

Without naming any country, he hinted that the U.S. was looking to militants to help topple al-Assad and would regret it, drawing a parallel with U.S. support for the mujahedeen who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the Cold War. “Today, someone is using al-Qaeda fighters or people from other organizations with the same extreme views to achieve their goals in Syria,” Putin said.

He noted that the U.S. had imprisoned many alleged Islamic militants at Guantanamo Bay and said it might as well “open the gates to Guantanamo and let all the Guantanamo inmates into Syria, let them fight. It’s the same thing.”