Putin: Ending Syrian war takes priority over al-Assad’s fate
From Saad Abedine and Laura Smith-Spark, (CNN) — Russia declared Thursday that its goal is to end the bloody conflict in Syria, not help the nation’s embattled president cling to power at all costs.
“We are advocating the solution that would prevent the collapse of the region and the continuous civil war,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a televised news conference in Moscow.
“Not retain (President Bashar) al-Assad and his regime.”
To do that, he said, talks between opposing sides are crucial.
“First, people should negotiate, agree on how their participation would be guaranteed … not first destroy everything and then try to negotiate,” Putin said.
Al-Assad has not visited Moscow a lot in his tenure, and Russia does not have “special economic relations” with Syria, according to Putin.
Russia is “not concerned” about al-Assad’s fate, he said.
“We understand what’s going on there (in Syria). We know that this family has been in power for 40 years,” he said.
The Syrian civil war started in March 2011 when a government crackdown on civilian demonstrators morphed into a fight between government forces and rebels.
U.S. officials have accused Russia and China of blocking efforts to topple al-Assad by vetoing United Nations Security Council resolutions against the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Syria’s opposition coalition Thursday denied any targeting of Russian citizens over Moscow’s stance, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
The news agency said it had received a statement from the opposition coalition that condemned any attacks on “innocent civilians,” whatever their nationality.
“While condemning the Russian government’s policy and position on political and military support for al-Assad’s regime, the National Coalition states unequivocally that the Russian leadership alone bears the entire responsibility for its actions and Russian citizens are not to blame for that,” it quotes the statement as saying.
The National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces gained recognition from the United States and others at a Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco this month. Russia was not present.
On Wednesday, Haitham al-Maleh, a prominent leader of the Syrian opposition abroad, told broadcaster Al Jazeera that Russians are a “legitimate” target for Syrian militants since Russia supports al-Assad.
Two Russian citizens were kidnapped Monday along with an Italian near the western Syrian port city of Latakia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman warned Wednesday that the situation has “escalated dangerously,” according to a U.N. media release.
“As we have repeatedly underlined, the military approach pursued by both sides comes at a devastating cost in terms of human lives and destruction, and breeds a serious risk of sectarian and communal strife, radicalization and terrorism,” he told a meeting of the Security Council.
“If nothing is done to change the current dynamic, and to move toward a political solution, the destruction of Syria will be the likely outcome.”
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners appealed Wednesday for $1.5 billion to help civilians affected by the conflict in Syria over the next six months.
Read more: U.N. announces $1.5 billion aid plan for refugees
The aid will go to help those still in Syria, as well as more than half a million registered refugees outside its borders.
U.N. planners say about $1 billion will be needed to support refugees in countries including Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, with numbers expected to rise as high as a million in the first half of next year.
The remaining $500 million will help an estimated 4 million people inside Syria who need urgent humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations, about half of whom have fled their homes.
Read more: Refugee figures fail to give true picture of crisis
The conflict has held the attention of world powers for months because of relentless brutality that has left more than 40,000 people dead.
The death toll so far Thursday is 28, including three women and three children, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition network.