In an interview with the German magazine the “Bild” the second part of which was published in Russian President’s official website on Tuesday, he reiterated the support of his country for anti-terrorism bid in Syria.
According to Russia Today, he said Russia supports Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and will back anti-Assad rebels as long as they are fighting Islamic State.
The Western media has repeatedly criticized Russia over its airstrikes in Syria, claiming they only support the Assad regime and allegedly focus on hitting the Syrian opposition rather than IS.
“They are telling lies,” Putin reacted, when asked about the allegations. Despite the existence of evidence showing the facts on the ground, Russia’s critics “prefer to ignore it.”
“Look, the videos that support this version appeared before our pilots even started to carry out strikes against terrorists. This can be corroborated,” the president said.
By contrast, Putin brought up the deadly US airstrike on a hospital that killed over 20 people in northern Afghanistan in October and the following lack of mainstream media attention.
“American pilots hit the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, by mistake, I am sure,” he said. “Western media outlets have attempted to hush this up, to drop the subject and have a very short memory span when it comes to such things. They mentioned it a couple of times and put it on ice.” On the contrary, “this phony evidence” about Russian pilots allegedly targeting civilian areas “keeps circulating,” Putin added.
Explaining Russia’s goals in the Syrian conflict, Putin reiterated that the main concern is to avoid the creation of a complete power vacuum in Syria, leading to the devastation of the country, as happened in post-Gaddafi Libya.
“I can tell you precisely what we do not want to happen: we do not want the Libyan or Iraqi scenario to be repeated in Syria,” he said.
In order to avoid such a turn of events, Syria should restructure its government, basing it on a new constitution, the Russian president said.
Putin reiterated that the Syrian people should decide their own country’s future, regardless of whether Assad stays in his post.
Putin's comments were published as the second part of a wide-ranging interview to Bild, the mass-circulation German newspaper, conducted on January 5 at his residence in Sochi.
Asked to comment on the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the president said that “disagreements … hamper the fight against terrorism and efforts to settle the Syrian conflict'.
The president added that he does not know whether Tehran-Ryadh tensions could lead to a major regional confrontation and that he did not want to 'speak or even think' about such a turn of events.
Putin noted that Russia has good relations with Iran and noted that Moscow regretted execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Putin said he considered an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran absolutely unacceptable.
'We regret what happened, especially knowing that this cleric did not fight with arms in his hands against Saudi Arabia. At the same time, an attack on an embassy is an absolutely unacceptable event in today's world,' Putin said in the interview published on Tuesday.
'If our mediation [in current Saudi-Iran conflict] will be needed, we are ready to make all possible efforts to help end it as soon as possible,' Putin added.