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Putin: Russia protecting Syria from dismemberment rather than shielding Assad

Vladimir Putin says Russia is confident that Syrian President Bashar Assad never resorted to the use of chemical weapons in his country

ST. PETERSBURG, June 2. /TASS/. Russia is defending not so much Syria’s leader Bashar Assad as Syrian statehood, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

"We’re defending there [in Syria] not so much President Assad as Syrian statehood," the Russian president said at a panel discussion at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"We don’t want a situation to emerge on the territory of Syria comparable with Libya or Somalia or with Afghanistan where there is the need for presence for many years while the situation is not changing for the better," Putin stressed.

Russia wants the preservation of the Syrian statehood to use this as the basis for moving towards the political settlement of the Syrian problem, the Russian leader said.

In response to a question about whether Assad could be considered as an evil man, Putin suggested that this question should be addressed to other leaders who had communicated with the Syrian president.

"He [Assad] visited Europe more frequently than Russia after he was elected," the Russian leader said, explaining his suggestion.

"Did Assad make mistakes? Yes, possibly, and quite a few of them," Putin said. "But the people who oppose him, are they angels or what? I mean, those who kill people, execute children and cut heads off?"

He warned against "labelling" and called for concrete work to pool countries’ efforts in addressing the problem of terrorism.

Putin pointed out that the charges Assad had used chemical weapons were groundless. Moreover, nobody cared to support Russia’s proposal to inspect the places where ostensible chemical weapons were taken on board aircraft or the suspected places of attack.

"They refused. Nobody wants to," he stated. "There has been much talk, but no action at all."

Putin also said the very instance of elimination of chemical weapons had been confirmed by Damascus.

"Speaking about people, who had been allegedly killed or wounded as a result of the use of (chemical) weapons - this information is false," Putin said speaking at the 2017 Saint Petersburg Economic Forum (SPIEF-2017). "As of today, we are absolutely sure that it simply was an act of provocation."

"(Syrian President Bashar) Assad never used this weapon," the Russian president said. "It had been done by those, who eventually sought accusing him of this act."

According to Putin, Russian intelligence had data that a similar scenario was planned to be used again ‘by them’ in other regions of Syria, including near Damascus.

"We have made this information public," the Russian president said. "Thanks God, those who planned this action, pulled their wits together in time."

Putin reiterated that the chemical weapons were used in Syria by those, who later intended to shift the blame on President Bashar Assad.