Putin won't rule out granting Syrian president Assad asylum in Russia
Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30
Russian leader Putin has not ruled out the prospect of granting political asylum to his long-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
When asked by a German newspaper if he would grant asylum to Assad, the Russian president said it was too early to consider the issue.
However, Mr Putin noted that Russia had given asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, "which was far more difficult than to do the same for Mr Assad".
The Russian leader said Syria needed political reform, adding that the main objective should be for the country to move towards a new constitution.
"It is a complicated process," said Mr Putin.
"Then, early presidential and parliamentary elections should be held, based on the new constitution. It is the Syrian people themselves who must decide who should run their country and how.
"This is the only way to achieve stability and security, to create conditions for economic growth and prosperity, so that people can live in their own homes, in their homeland, rather than flee to Europe."
Elsewhere in the second half of an interview with the German newspaper 'Bild', Mr Putin(pictured below) said that evidence of Russian airstrikes killing civilians in Syria is "phony" and claims that Russia is targeting rebel groups rather than the Isil terror group are "lies."
In wide-ranging comments on Russia's role in the Syrian civil war, he also claimed Russia is co-ordinating air operations with anti-Isil rebel groups and said "it is not important" whether Assad remains in power.
Russia launched an air war in support of Assad's government on September 30 last year.
Mr Putin's comments come after human rights groups and media organisations accused Russia of using indiscriminate cluster bombs that have killed more than 200 Syrian civilians.
He said the only conceivable "civilian" targets hit by the Russian airforce are columns of oil tankers, but added: "Everyone is bombing them, including the Americans, French and everyone else."
"They are telling lies. Look, the videos that support this version appeared before our pilots even started to carry out strikes against terrorists. This can be corroborated. However, those who criticise us prefer to ignore it," Mr Putin said.
He also accused Western media outlets of brushing over attacks on civilians by Western air forces, including trying to "hush up" the American attack on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in October.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released reports last month detailing multiple airstrikes in civilian areas which they said were attributable to Russia.
The attacks include strikes that killed 60 people, including eight children, in Douma, a town on the eastern edge of Damascus, on December 13 and 14.
Conflict Intelligence Team, a Russian citizen journalism group, said last week it had verified the use of three kinds of cluster munitions by the Russian air force in Syria, and concluded that it was "highly likely" that strikes had killed civilians.