Syrian leader Bashar Assad is prepared to cooperate with Syrian opposition forces in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke about the Syrian civil war at a gathering of eastern European leaders Tuesday. Russia, which had long supported Assad's authoritarian regime, recently entered the fringes of the Syrian war after it unloaded tanks and other military equipment from planes and ships that began arriving in Syria over the last 10 days.
"Of course, it is also necessary to think about political transformations in that country and we know about President Assad’s readiness to involve the healthy part of the opposition in these processes, in state governance as well," Putin said at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, according to the Russian news site Tass. "Today, the need of uniting the efforts in the struggle against terrorism is undoubtedly coming to the foreground."
The Syrian civil war has killed more than 250,000 people since it began in the spring of 2011 and prompted more than 4 million refugees to flee the country. The turmoil has seen those refugees seek asylum in neighboring countries -- such as Turkey and Lebanon -- as well as make dangerous journeys to the European Union. The destabilization from the war has led to the rise of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which controls around 50 percent of Syria, while militias opposed to Assad have also been gaining ground against his beleaguered forces.
At the meeting of the Russian-led security organization, Putin rebuffed accusations that Russia was in some way partly responsible for the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. "We see attempts today of nearly casting the blame on Russia for this problem, for its emergence," Putin said. "They allege that the refugee problem emerged due to Russia’s support for the legitimate authorities in Syria," he said.
Russia keeping Assad in power had prevented the country from turning into the sort of civil war that is currently raging in Libya, Putin added.
It’s not yet clear what plans Russia has for the military equipment that has been arriving in Syria over recent weeks, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that the equipment would not be used in attacks against ISIS, according to an Al Jazeera report. The terror group, which is reportedly recruiting from southern Russia, claimed that it had attacked a Russia military base in the North Caucasus region at the beginning of September, giving rise to rumors that Moscow’s forces would retaliate by launching some sort of military campaign in Syria.