The Russian military operation in Syria will continue until a political process starts, but it is up to the Syrians to decide when to stop fighting and sit down for talks, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
“We aren’t going to be more Syrian than the Syrians themselves,” he said at his annual news conference, attended by hundreds of Russian and foreign journalists.
Russian warplanes have flown thousands of combat sorties in Syria since Moscow began its air campaign on September 30. Putin said it will continue until work begins on a political settlement.
The president said he was unsure whether Russia needs a permanent military base in Syria, given that new Russian weapons, such as sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, give Moscow enough punch to strike an enemy.
Putin said Moscow supports the US draft of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. He said Russia and the US agree on the need to ensure the drafting of a new constitution for Syria and create mechanisms of control over future elections, in which Syrians themselves will determine their leadership.
Putin said Russia is ready to improve ties with the United States and work with whomever is elected its next president.
He said his talks with US Secretary John Kerry earlier this week showed that Washington is ready to “move toward settling the issues that can only be settled through joint efforts”.
Addressing Russia’s strained relations with some of its neighbours, Putin said he saw no possibility of overcoming the tensions with Turkey under its current leadership, and wanted to see the conflict in Ukraine settled as soon as possible.
He also offered assurances that the Russian economy was showing signs of stabilisation despite plummeting oil prices, in fielding questions from journalists representing state-owned media organisations about whether the government was coping with the challenges and whether the country could afford waging a war.