Russian President Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed Moscow's military assistance to the Syrian regime, despite the West's disapproval. He said 'Islamic State' (IS) couldn't be defeated without cooperating with Damascus.
Putin also urged other nations to follow Russia's example and offer military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Speaking at a meeting of ex-Soviet heads of states in Tajikistan on Tuesday, he warned that without "an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole."
The Russian leader added that it was vital that "pooling forces in the fight against terror takes the priority now."
His comments follow recent media reports suggesting that Russia was ramping up its military commitment in Syria and planned to set up an air base in the coastal province of Latakia. NATO and Washington voiced their concerns over the claims.
Moscow denied it had made any further military commitment to Damascus, while Putin has suggested that the prospect of Russian troops on the ground in Syria was one of "various options," being considered.
At the weekend, Russia delivered two cargo planes of 'humanitarian aid' to the Syrian city of Latakia
Putin said Assad was ready to instigate political reforms and engage a "healthy part of the opposition," despite demands from the West that Assad step down.
Moscow has staunchly backed Assad throughout Syria's 4-year civil war, shielding him from United Nations sanctions and continuing to provide weapons despite international condemnation.
The Kremlin has pushed for a broader coalition of forces to take on IS, but other Middle East countries - including Saudi Arabia - have ruled out fighting alongside Assad.
Putin dismissed allegations that Russia's support for Assad has sparked a flow of millions of refugees to Syria's neighbors and on to Europe. He said without Russia's backing, the number of refugees heading to the EU would have been much larger.
"People are fleeing Syria primarily to escape fighting that has been fueled from the outside with supplies of weapons and hardware, they are fleeing to escape terrorist atrocities," he added.
The Syrian conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011, quickly spiraling into a civil war that has left close to a quarter of a million people dead.
mm/jil (AFP, AP)