Russia 'no special ties' to Syria: Putin

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, March 2, 2012

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied Moscow had a "special relationship" with Syria, and urged the regime and opposition groups to agree to a ceasefire and negotiate a solution.

"We have no special relationship with Syria," Putin told foreign news executives late Thursday at a meeting at his suburban Moscow residence ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in Russia.

"It's clear that there are very serious internal problems. The reforms that they [the regime] have offered clearly should have been carried out long ago," said Putin in comments published on the government website Friday.

Alluding to Syrian President Bashar Assad's future, he said both sides had to sit down and agree "what reforms there will be and what will be the consequences of these reforms."

"But now we have to get them to stop killing each other," he added.

Russia, along with China, have vetoed two Western-backed UN Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to relinquish power.

Russia and China fear Western governments are seeking to exploit the crisis and encourage a civil war that will destroy Syria's status as a regional power.

Putin accused Western powers of worsening the crisis by helping to arm the rebels and putting pressure on Assad.

"If you are going to only increase supplies of weapons [to the rebels] and step up pressure on Assad, the opposition will never sit at the negotiating table," he said.

"Our principle is not to encourage the sides in an armed conflict but make them sit down at the negotiating table and agree acceptable terms for a ceasefire and to stop the human losses," Putin added.

Syria is a major arms client of Moscow, which has kept strong ties with Damascus going back to the alliance between the Soviet Union and Assad's father and predecessor Hafez Assad.

"I don't know how much weaponry we are selling to Syria," said Putin. "We have economic interests in Syria but likely no more than Britain or any other European country," he added.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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