Russia wants to avoid “chaos” in Syria after any changes that may take place in the country, President Vladimir Putin said, a day after distancing himself from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The opposing sides in the conflict need to reach an agreement to preserve the interests of all ethnic and confessional groups in Syria, Putin told journalists in Brussels after a European Union-Russia summit today.
“We don’t want the chaos that we see in other countries in the region to happen after any changes that may occur in Syria,” the Russian leader said. “No one wants to see that happen. Everyone wants an end to the violence and bloodshed.”
Russia has signaled it’s moving to end support for Assad after maintaining weapons supplies and blocking the West’s demands for action through the United Nations Security Council throughout the 21-month Syrian conflict. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said last week that Assad is losing control and may be overthrown, Russia’s first official acknowledgment that the Syrian leader’s days may be numbered.
“We aren’t advocates for the current leadership,” Putin said. “We will work to ensure order in Syria and a democratic system based on the popular will of the Syrian people.”
Still, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had spurned requests from regional powers in the Middle East to facilitate the ouster of Assad and refuses to take part in regime change in the country.
“We received requests from several regional players,” Russian state broadcaster RT reported Lavrov as saying in an interview. “My answer is very simple: if those who made the offer to us really feel this way, why don’t they directly address President Assad? Why use us as a messenger? If President Assad is interested, it should be discussed with him directly.”
Assad has been fighting an uprising since March 2011 that’s killed about 44,000 people, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The opposition has made gains against Assad’s forces and controls mainly Sunni Muslim areas stretching from the northeastern outskirts of the capital to the southwest.