Syrian Troops Gain as Putin Defends Strikes

BEIRUT (AP) -
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center R) meets with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (center L) in Sochi, Russia, Sunday. Putin met with Prince Mohammed on Sunday to discuss security in the Middle East and the conflict in Syria.  (REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center R) meets with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (center L) in Sochi, Russia, Sunday. Putin met with Prince Mohammed on Sunday to discuss security in the Middle East and the conflict in Syria. (REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes advanced against insurgents in the center of the country as President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow’s intervention in the conflict, saying it would aid efforts to reach a political settlement.

Putin said Moscow’s objective was to stabilize the Syrian government and create conditions for a political compromise.

“When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital, then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital,” he said in an interview with Russian state media broadcast on Sunday.

Critics of Russia’s intervention have argued that strengthening the government will only make compromise more difficult, and on Sunday the main Western-backed opposition group said the strikes would undermine any efforts to reach a settlement.

The Syrian National Coalition also said it would boycott talks suggested by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, saying any political process must be based on “ending the Russian aggression” and reviving a roadmap adopted in 2012.

The fighting Sunday was on multiple fronts in the northern part of the central Hama province and the nearby rebel-held Idlib province. A Syrian military official said troops seized the northern Hama village of Tak Sukayk. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was the second village in the area captured by the government since it launched a wide-ranging ground offensive made possible by Russian airstrikes that began Sept. 30.