Putin: Too Early to Speak About Sheltering Assad in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Germany's Bild newspaper at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia, January 5, 2016. Picture taken January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Germany’s Bild newspaper at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia, Jan. 5. (Reuters/Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin)

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that it was too early to speak about granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Putin ally and arguably the main obstacle in the Syrian peace process.

Russia began carrying out air strikes on the positions of Islamic State terrorists in September in support of Assad’s army, which critics say are aimed against Assad’s opponents.

Russia, the United States and Middle East nations are promoting talks between the Syrian government and opposition, and Assad has been seen as a highly divisive figure.

Putin said in an interview with the German daily Bild published on Tuesday that Moscow is advocating for a constitutional reform in Syria and if the next election is democratic, “Assad won’t have to go anywhere, no matter if he is elected president or not.”

While Putin refused to speculate on a possible Moscow role in helping to remove Assad, he indicated that it would not be too difficult for Moscow to do.

“We granted asylum to Snowden,” he said, referring to the American whistleblower Edward Snowden. “That was more difficult than [it would be] to shelter Assad.”