Russia says wants Putin-Obama talks on Syria
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that dialogue between Moscow and Washington on solving the Syria crisis was indispensable.
Peskov made the comments when asked whether talks on Syria were possible between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday strongly defended Moscow’s military assistance to the Syrian government, saying it’s impossible to defeat the Islamic State group without cooperating with the Syrian government.
Putin’s statement came amid the signs of an ongoing Russian military build-up in Syria, which the US says signals Moscow’s intention to set up an air base there.
Speaking at a meeting of heads of states at a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations in Tajikistan, Putin urged other nations to follow Russia’s example and offer military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
“We are supporting the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression, are offering and will continue to offer it necessary military-technical assistance,” Putin said in televised remarks. “Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole, and to protect the multi-ethnic … Syrian people from destruction.”
He said that Assad was ready to conduct political transformations and engage a `”healthy part of the opposition,” but added that “pooling forces in the fight against terror takes the priority now.”
Putin shrugged off allegations that Moscow’s support for Assad has sparked a flow of refugees, saying that without Russia’s support for Assad’s regime the number of Syrian refugees heading to Europe would have been even bigger.
The Pentagon says that Russia is in the midst of a steady military build-up at a Syrian airport, indicating Moscow intends to create an air operations base there, although no fighter jets or helicopters have arrived yet.
“We have seen indications in recent days that Russia has moved people and things into the area around Latakia and the air base there that suggest it intends to establish some sort of forward air operating base,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday.
Satellite imagery suggests the activity includes reinforcing aircraft runways, building helicopter pads, installing mobile housing units, and constructing several new buildings including an air traffic control tower, according to Stratfor, a private intelligence company.
Latakia is about 100 miles from Islamic State-held territory near Aleppo.
Latakia is a political stronghold for Assad and his Shia Alawite sect. It is widely believed that Assad would return to the Latakia area if the government’s capital in Damascus fell to rebels or Islamic extremists.
“Clearly, one of the concerns we have is de-confliction. So I think it’s going to be important, as this manifests itself, whatever this is, that we address the issue of de-confliction,” Davis said.
Despite the concerns about de-confliction, the U.S and Russian militaries have had no direct contact lately, Davis said. The relationship between the two longtime Cold War adversaries is severely strained and communications is limited to diplomatic channels.