Putin backs peaceful change in Syria

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Russia realises changes in Syria are needed but is concerned the push to unseat President Bashar Assad’s regime could plunge the country even deeper into violence, Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday in comments that distanced him further from his longtime ally.

Mr Putin’s assessment came just a week after Russia’s top envoy for Syria was quoted as saying Assad’s forces were losing control of the country.

Although the Foreign Ministry backpedalled on that statement, analysts have suggested for months the Kremlin is resigned to losing its longtime ally.

At his annual hours-long news conference, Mr Putin said Moscow stood for a settlement that would “prevent the country from break-up and an endless civil war. Agreements based on a military victory can’t be effective,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly blocked international attempts to step up pressure on the Assad regime as it fights an increasingly strong armed opposition. That has brought substantial criticism of Russia as effectively supporting the regime, but Russia has said its stance is not aimed at propping up Mr Assad.

“We are not preoccupied that much with the fate of the Assad regime; we realise what’s going on there and that the family has been in power for 40 years,” Mr Putin said. “Undoubtedly, there is a call for changes.

“We are worried about another thing: what happens next. We don’t want to see the opposition come to power and start fighting the government that becomes the opposition, so that it goes on forever.”

Mr Putin said Russia’s position “is not to keep Assad and his regime in power at any cost, but to allow the people to come to an agreement on how they will live further and how they will ensure their safety and their participation in governing the country and then start changing the current order based on those agreements”.