Russia aims to \'liberate\' Syria with Assad in power
MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Saturday said its military intervention in Syria aims to liberate the war-torn nation's territory from jihadists while keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview with Rossiya-1 national television set to air on Saturday evening said there were only two possible outcomes for the Syrian conflict -- either Assad remains in power or jihadists take over.
"Either Assad is in Damascus, or Al-Nusra is," he said, referring to former Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Fateh al-Sham Front. "There is no third option here."
Russia launched a massive air campaign in September last year to back longtime ally Assad.
A recent surge of Russian air strikes on besieged rebel-held areas of second city Aleppo have prompted outrage at civilian deaths and the destruction of schools and hospitals.
"It is necessary to liberate the Syrian territory," Peskov said, when asked whether Russia could step away from its involvement in the Syrian conflict.
The Kremlin spokesman said that "we must do everything possible to prevent the partition of the country" since this could lead to "the most catastrophic results for the whole region."
He added that in order to reach a political settlement to end the five-year war, "Assad must be in Damascus."
He said that it was "hard to underestimate the role of the Russian operation" in ensuring such an outcome.
Peskov criticised nations calling for Assad's ouster, saying that some were "flirting with the Devil and trying to get rid of Assad through the hands of terrorists," while others "carelessly saying that Assad must go."
Russia's aim is to "help Syria's legitimate authorities," he said.
If Damascus is taken over by "terrorists," no political settlement will ever be possible, he charged.
"Those terrorists won't obey any masters or puppet-masters," he said, as he warned that a defeat of Assad's regime would only lead to "new waves of refugees" and more jihadist attacks in Europe.
More than 300,000 people have been killed since Syria's war devolved from a widespread protest movement against Assad's rule in March 2011 to a multi-front war between rebels, jihadists, Kurds and regime forces.