MOSCOW, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that he may grant asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if the besieged leader were to flee the country wracked by civil war.
“It was surely more difficult to grant Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad,” Putin said during an interview with Bild, a German tabloid, published on Tuesday.
In the comment, Putin made reference to the case of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted Russian asylum in 2013.
Putin said it was still too early to say whether Russia would grant Assad asylumfollowing a peace deal between the government and rebel groups aiming to transition toward a new Syrian government.
Syria has been blighted by a complex civil war in which the Isis, the Syrian government and multiple Syrian rebel groups fight for control of territory.
“First, the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election,” Putin said.
Putin, a longtime ally of Assad, admitted that he thought Assad had “done much wrong over the course of this conflict,” but added “the conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fuelled by outside of Syria — with weapons, money and fighters.”
Both Assad and Putin have previously said a political solution is needed to end the Syrian civil war. Russia in September began a military campaign in Syria by conducting airstrikes against targets that oppose the Assad regime — primarily bombing the Islamic State, but often targeting rebel forces seeking to overthrow Assad.
“We do not want Syria to end like Iraq or Libya,” Putin said. “Look at Egypt: One has to praise President [Abdel Fatah al] Sisi for taking over the responsibility and power in an emergency situation, in order to stabilize the country.”