Moscow: President Vladimir Putin said in an interview released Friday that Russia has no “right” to ask Syrian leader Bashar Assad to leave power.
His remarks came just days before leaders from the world’s top 20 industrial powers gather in Turkey for a summit which begins Sunday and is likely to be dominated by the Syrian conflict.
But Putin, who hosted the embattled Syrian leader for surprise talks at the Kremlin last month, said Russia could not and would not ask him to quit.
“Let’s think just how legal and ethical our behavior would be if we invited to Moscow the head of a friendly state and at the same time raised the issue of him leaving power?
“Syria is a sovereign country, Bashar Assad is a president elected by the people. So do we have the right to discuss with him these issues? Of course not,” Putin said in an interview with the Interfax and Anatolia news agencies.
World powers are to hold another round of talks on the Syrian conflict in Vienna this weekend.
Putin reiterated that Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria would last for the duration of an offensive by the Syrian army.
“So the duration of our military’s stay will be determined solely by the implementation of this goal,” Putin said.
The Russian president also said the “possible risks and consequences” of Russia’s Syrian intervention have been addressed multiple times.
On September 30, Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria, saying it needed to target Daesh jihadists, but the West has accused Moscow of seeking to prop up Assad’s regime and hitting moderate rebels.
A month later, an Airbus A321 charter plane carrying 224 people, mostly Russian tourists, crashed over Sinai, killing everyone on board.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the attack in an apparent act of revenge for Russia’s Syria intervention.
Sources close to the probe have told AFP that experts involved in the investigation “strongly favor” the theory of a bomb on board the plane but Moscow has not yet given any definitive cause for the disaster.
Separately, the Russian military said on Friday that its warplanes had struck 289 “terrorist” targets in 107 sorties over the past two days.
Moscow said it had destroyed 34 terrorist command center and three training camps, among other targets.