Russia supports both Assad troops and rebels in battle against ISIS – Putin

“We support both the al-Assad’s army and the armed opposition,” Putin said in a lengthy recent interview to the newspaper, now published in full. “Some of them have publicly declared this, others prefer to remain silent, but the work is on-going.”

According to the President, “this is hundreds, thousands of armed people fighting Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL).”

“We coordinate our joint operations with them and support their offensives by airstrikes in various sections of the frontline,” Putin said.

The Western media has repeatedly criticized Russia over its airstrikes in Syria, claiming they only support the Assad regime and allegedly focus on hitting the Syrian opposition rather than IS.

“They are telling lies,” Putin reacted when asked about the allegations. Despite the existence of evidence showing the facts on the ground, Russia’s critics “prefer to ignore it.”

“Look, the videos that support this version appeared before our pilots even started to carry out strikes against terrorists. This can be corroborated,” the President said.

In contrast, Putin brought up the deadly US airstrike on a hospital that killed over 20 people in northern Afghanistan in October and the following lack of mainstream media attention.

“American pilots hit the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, by mistake, I am sure,” he said. “Western media outlets have attempted to hush this up, to drop the subject and have a very short memory span when it comes to such things. They mentioned it a couple of times and put it on ice.” On the contrary, “this phony evidence” about Russian pilots allegedly targeting civilian targets “keeps circulating,” Putin added.

“If we tag the ‘live pipelines’ that consist of thousands of petrol and oil tankers as civilian targets, then, indeed, one might believe that our pilots are bombing these targets, but everyone is bombing them, including the Americans, the French and everyone else,” he said.

Explaining Russia’s goals in the conflict, Putin reiterated that the main concern is to avoid the creation of a complete power vacuum in Syria, leading to the devastation of the country, as happened in post-Gaddafi Libya.

“I can tell you precisely what we do not want to happen: we do not want the Libyan or Iraqi scenario to be repeated in Syria,” he said.

In order to avert such a turn of events, Syria should restructure its government, basing it on a new constitution, the Russian President said.

“This is the only way to achieve stability and security, to create conditions for economic growth and prosperity, so that people can live in their own homes, in their homeland, rather than flee to Europe,” Putin added.

On Russia’s global ambitions: ‘We do not claim the role of a superpower’

Putin has also responded to questions regarding Russia’s position on the global arena. He disagreed with US President Obama’s labeling of Russia as “a regional power,” and said that the country is not striving to become a “superpower.”

“We do not claim the role of a superpower. This role is very costly and it is meaningless,” Putin said, adding that, in fact, Russia occupies “roughly the sixth place in the world”.

Speaking at a nuclear summit at The Hague in March 2015, Obama referred to Russia as a “regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors.”

While admitting that everyone is entitled to their opinion, Putin pointed out that Obama’s remark was quite vague.

“If we say that Russia is a regional power, we should first determine what region we are referring to,” he said pointing out Russia’s vast geographical territory, which stretches from Europe, China and Japan to the maritime border with Alaska in the US and “Canada across the Arctic Ocean.”

“I think that speculations about other countries, an attempt to speak disrespectfully about other countries, is an attempt to prove one’s exceptionalism by contrast. In my view, that is a misguided position,” he concluded.

On Russia-NATO tension: ‘If we’re not welcome, that’s fine with us’

The interview also touched upon the prospects of renewal of Russia’s cooperation with the G8 and NATO. Both groups cut ties with Russia amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“It was not Russia that cut off cooperation through the G8 or the Russia-NATO Council. We are willing to interact with everyone, once there is a matter for common discussion,” Putin said.

Yet, Russia will not go out of its way to be accepted back, he added, advocating a happy relationship “when the feeling is mutual.”

“If we are not welcomed as partners, that’s fine with us then,” the President said.

Russia-NATO ties worsened further following Turkey’s downing of Russia’s Su-24 jet and the killing of its pilot by Ankara-backed Turkmen rebels on November 24. Shortly after the attack, Ankara called an emergency NATO meeting.

“Instead of trying to provide us with an explanation for the war crime they committed, that is, for downing our fighter jet that was targeting terrorists, the Turkish government rushed to NATO headquarters seeking protection, which looks quite odd and, in my view, humiliating for Turkey,” Putin said.

He expressed the hope that “such incidents” would not trigger “large-scale hostilities,” but stressed that Russia “would defend its security interests by all available means at its disposal” should it be threatened.

This is the second part of President Putin’s big interview to the German newspaper. He spoke to Bild on January 5 at his residence in Sochi.

READ MORE: World would be more balanced if Russia asserted national interests from outset – Putin

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