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Thursday, December 17, 2015, 22:30

Russia says broadly backs US' Syria plans

By Reuters

Russia says broadly backs US' Syria plans
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on Dec 17, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)

MOSCOW - Russia's president Vladimir Putin, speaking on the eve of a meeting of world powers in New York on Friday to discuss Syria, said he broadly supported US plans to try to push forward the Syrian peace process.

Even though differences between Moscow and Washington remained, he said he backed a US plan to prepare a UN resolution on the peace process.

But though he said there was agreement that a new constitution needed to be drawn up and an election held to determine the fate of the conflict-torn country, he signaled Moscow was not yet ready to withdraw its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin said he would never agree to any outside force deciding on who should rule Syria and added that there was no way to resolve the Syria crisis other than a political solution.

"We believe that only the Syrian people can decide who should govern them," said Putin, saying Moscow would continue its air strikes in Syria for as long as the Syrian army continued its own military operations.

Also on Thursday, Putin subjected Turkey to a furious tirade, using barrack-room language to wonder aloud whether it had shot down a Russian warplane last month to curry favor with the United States.

Addressing almost 1,400 reporters in a cavernous hall inside a Moscow conference center, the Russian president dedicated a chunk of his annual news conference to spelling out why he saw no prospect of a rapprochement with Ankara.

"If someone in the Turkish leadership decided to lick the Americans in a particular place I don't know whether they acted correctly or not and I don't know ... whether the Americans needed that," said Putin, referring to the shooting down.

Putin said he could imagine a scenario where there was a deal for Turkey to shoot down a Russian plane in return for Washington turning a blind eye to Turkish troops entering Iraq.

"Perhaps there was such an arrangement," he said.

Turkey's downing of a Russian SU-24 fighter bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border on Nov 24 prompted Putin to impose economic sanctions on Turkey who he claimed had stabbed Russia in the back.

Turkey said it was acting to defend its airspace. Moscow said its plane had not overflown Turkey.

Putin made clear Russian sanctions would stay in place for some time, saying it was hard for the Kremlin to reach any kind of agreement with the current Turkish leadership, whom he accused of "creeping Islamisation" that would have the secular state's founder, Kemal Ataturk, turning in his grave.

"Maybe, they thought we would run away from there (Syria)? But Russia is not such a country," said Putin.

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