Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that any attempts to overthrow the government in Syria could lead to a failed state like Iraq or Libya.
Putin’s comments on Sunday come as the world’s leaders meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Speaking on the US network CBS, Putin said that “Syrians and only Syrians” should be able to decide the fate of their country.
“There’s no other solution to the Syrian crisis other than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism, but at the same time urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform,” Putin said.
Asked whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be forced to go first, Putin said: “It’s only the Syrian people who are entitled to decide who should govern their country, and how.”
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN, said there was no consensus between Western countries and Russia on how to proceed with the Syrian conflict and “there’s certainly a debate on which enemy to fight first”.
Bays said EU and US leaders were also divided on what role Assad, a close ally of Putin, would play after any future settlement.
“Most of the Western countries say that ISIL was effectively created by Bashar al-Assad and he created the conditions in Syria that allowed ISIL to flourish,” our correspondent said.
“President Putin is making it clear that Russia sent troops to Syria because they were invited by the Syrian government and he made the point that the [US-led] coalition does not have that permission and so is illegal.”
The comments came as French President Francois Hollande confirmed that France had carried out its first air strikes against ISIL, but said that Syria’s future could not include Assad.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, has said he is open to keeping Assad in power in the short term until a unity government could be formed.
Putin’s comments came a day after the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told Al Jazeera that Russia intended to step up its military involvement in Syria to prevent the “imminent” collapse of the Syrian government.
Mogherini’s comments followed reports that 500 Russian troops have been deployed to a forward operating base in the Syrian port city of Latakia.
In an interview with Talk to Al Jazeera, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told her his country wanted to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state.
“His fear is of a complete collapse of the state structures in Syria; this could be one of the reasons Russia is talking in this way, but it could also be willingness to show that Russia is an important, substantial player,” Mogherini said.