Russia: Swift Assad exit may leave political vacuum

Putin slams US for arming al-Nusra, a recognized terror group, defends Moscow's decision to provide weapons to Assad regime.

June 21, 2013 19:11
1 minute read.
Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, December 2006.

Assad and Putin 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)

ST PETERSBURG, Russia - Russia is concerned that a political vacuum will emerge in Syria and militants will seize control if President Bashar Assad leaves power now, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

"We are concerned about the possible appearance of a political vacuum in Syria if some decisions about a change of government in Syria are taken now," Putin told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Assad goes today, a political vacuum emerges - who will fill it? Maybe these terrorist organizations," Putin said. "Nobody wants this - but how can it be avoided? After all, they are armed and aggressive."

Putin criticized foreign states that arm Assad's opponents in a more than two-year-old conflict that has killed at least 93,000 people. He defended Russia's weapons supplies to Assad's government, saying they are entirely legal.

"If the United States ... recognizes one of the key Syrian opposition organizations, al-Nusra, as terrorist ... how can one deliver arms to those opposition members?"

"Where will (those weapons) end up? What role will they play?" he added.

France proposed in May that the United Nations declare the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization, to differentiate it from other Syrian rebel groups. The United States did so last year and says the group is little more than a front for al-Qaida.

Putin said the only answer was an international peace conference that Russia and the United States want to convene.

"There is only one reasonable idea, which everybody supported at the G8," he said, referring to a summit this week in Northern Ireland.

"It is to force all the conflicting sides to come to Geneva...and sit at the negotiating table, stop the violence, and find acceptable forms for the future structure of their state and the provision of security for all ethnic and religious groups."

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