Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is ready to hold snap parliamentary elections and allow a “healthy” opposition to share power.
The Syrian president “is in agreement with” holding elections for parliament, as well as establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition and bringing them into the leadership, Putin told reporters on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Friday.
“Overall there is an understanding that the unification of forces in the fight against terrorism should proceed in parallel with some sort of political process within Syria,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement.
“This is primarily an issue of Syria’s internal development. We are not imposing anything, but we are ready to promote this internal Syrian dialogue,” Putin said.
Putin did not elaborate on what a “healthy” opposition was supposed to mean.
Russia has been a close ally of the Syrian government since the Soviet era and has staunchly opposed foreign calls to oust Assad in the effort to restore peace to the country.
Moscow wants the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group’s positions to coordinate with the Syrian and Iraqi armies and moderate anti-Assad rebel groups on the ground, as well as Kurdish forces.
Assad’s enemies have refused to cooperate with Damascus, fearing that would help legitimise his rule in Syria, where the west and Gulf states say he is part of the problem, not the solution, and must go.
A flurry of recent high-level diplomatic contacts have so far failed to yield a breakthrough on the key point of contention in the conflict.
“If it’s impossible today to organise joint work directly on the battle field between all those countries interested in fighting terrorism, it’s indispensable to at least establish some sort of coordination between them,” Putin said.
Putin told reporters that Syrian refugees were mainly fleeing ISIL, which has gained large swaths of
Syria and Iraq over the past year.
“People are running away not from the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but from the Islamic State, which has conquered significant territory in Syria and Iraq,” Putin said at the forum.