Putin: West fuelling Syria conflict
Vladimir Putin has strongly criticised the West for backing the Syrian opposition against the government, saying it has fuelled the conflict.
Russia's prime minister said both the Syrian government and opposition forces must pull out of the cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of the opponents of Syrian president Bashar Assad had encouraged them to keep fighting.
"Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?" Mr Putin said at a meeting with Western newspaper editors in remarks carried by state television. "Is it a balanced approach?"
He refused to speculate on Assad's chance to hold on to power, saying that reforms in Syria had been long overdue and it was unclear whether the government and the opposition could find a consensus.
Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East. Moscow has maintained close ties with Damascus since the Cold War, when Syria was led by the current leader's father, Hafez Assad.
Mr Putin insisted that Russia's opposition to the United Nations resolution condemning Assad was rooted not in its economic interests, but a desire to help end hostilities.
He defended last month's Russia-China veto of a United Nations resolution condemning Assad's crackdown on protests, saying that Moscow wanted to prevent the replay of what happened in Libya, where a Nato air campaign helped Libyans oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Putin said that while Gaddafi's regime was "crazy", its ousting led to massive killings of civilians. He said Russia wanted the parties to the conflict in Syria to "find a consensus and stop killing each other".
"Instead of encouraging parties to the conflict, it's necessary to force them to sit down for talks and begin political procedures and political reforms that would be acceptable for all participants in the conflict," he said.