Putin wants to \'push\' Assad towards reform in Syria
SAINT PETERSBURG - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is ready to "push" his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad towards introducing reforms in the war-torn country, while vowing to continue to support his ally.
"We are ready to work with Assad so that he engages in a process of political change," Putin said at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.
"We are ready to push President Assad so that he engages in discussions with the 'healthy' opposition with a view towards political reforms. It is totally feasible," he said.
Russia hosted talks in April between the regime and members of the domestic, Damascus-tolerated opposition, but the absence of key exiled opposition groups meant there was no progress in resolving the four-year conflict.
Meanwhile, he vowed Moscow would continue to support the Damascus regime, claiming he feared Syria would follow in the steps of Libya or Iraq should Assad leave power.
"We think it is the right decision, and it is hard to expect anything different from us," Putin said.
The Russian president meanwhile called on the West to make "supplementary efforts to fight the absolute evil, which we believe is the Islamic State's fundamentalism".
Syria's war has killed more than 230,000 people, according to a monitoring group, and forced around half the population to flee their homes.
The conflict began in 2011 as a peaceful movement demanding political change, but later morphed into an all-out war with multiple fronts after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent.