Friday 28 October 2016

We must help Assad to beat Isil, says Putin amid ‘plan for airbase’ in Syria

Vladimir Isacchenkov

Published 16/09/2015 | 02:30

President Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday strongly defended Moscow’s military assistance to the Syrian government, saying it’s impossible to defeat Isil without cooperating with Damascus.

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Mr Putin’s statement comes amid the signs of an ongoing Russian military build-up in Syria, which Washington says signals Moscow’s intention to set up an air base there.

Speaking at a meeting of heads of states at a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations in Tajikistan, Mr Putin urged other nations to follow Russia’s example and offer military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. “We are supporting the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression, are offering and will continue to offer it necessary military-technical assistance,” Mr Putin said.

“Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole, and to protect the multi-ethnic Syrian people from destruction.”

He said that Assad was ready to conduct political transformations and engage a “healthy part of the opposition,” but added that “pooling forces in the fight against terror takes the priority now.”

The signs of a Russian military build-up in Syria have worried Washington, which sees Assad as the cause of the Syrian crisis and has warned Moscow against trying to shore up his regime.

In an interview with Russian media, excerpts of which were carried yesterday, Assad reaffirmed his claim that it’s necessary to uproot “terrorism” before discussing reforms.

“We must continue a dialogue for the sake of reaching consensus,” he said, according to Russian news agencies. “But it’s impossible to achieve real success as long as bloodshed continues and people don’t feel secure. We won’t achieve anything until we defeat terrorism in Syria.” He also urged Europeans to stop supporting “terrorists” to stem a flow of refugees from Syria.

Russia has staunchly backed up Assad throughout Syria’s devastating civil war that has killed about 250,000 people and turned millions into refugees, shielding him from UN sanctions and continuing to provide him with weapons despite Western criticism.

Mr Putin shrugged off allegations that his support for Assad has sparked a flow of refugees, saying that without Russia’s support for Assad’s regime the number of Syrian refugees heading to Europe would have been even bigger. “People are fleeing Syria primarily to escape fighting that has been fuelled from the outside with supplies of weapons and hardware, they are fleeing to escape terrorist atrocities,” he said.

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