Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that his government could grant political asylum to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in an interview with the German tabloid Bild, published Tuesday.
Although Mr. Putin said it was premature to discuss asylum, he admitted that it would be easier to shelter Mr. Assad than it has been for the Kremlin to harbor NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013.
“It was surely more difficult to grant Snowden asylum in Russian than it would be in the case of Assad,” Mr. Putin said, the Guardian reported.
But Mr. Putin argued that Mr. Assad might not need to seek asylum in Russia at all, should a democratic election be held in Syria under a peace deal to end the country’s 5-year civil war.
“First, the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election,” Mr. Putin said.
He said his main goal is to support the “legitimate” government in Syria while encouraging constitutional reforms, defending Mr. Assad’s use of force against Syrian rebels.
However, Mr. Putin admitted that his ally had “done much wrong over the course of this conflict.”
But he argued that the “conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fueled by outside of Syria — with weapons, money and fighters,” according to the Guardian.
Russia began a large-scale air strike campaign in Syrian in September. The Kremlin claims it is mainly targeting Islamic State fighters but critics say the majority of Russia’s air strikes have hit rebel group that oppose Mr. Assad’s regime.