In Interview with Bild, Putin Says ‘Premature’ to Offer Assad Asylum; Believes He Could Win Election

January 12, 2016
President Vladimir Putin with Bild journalists. Photo by Bild

Live Updates: In part 2 of an interview with Germany’s Bild published at, President Vladimir Putin indicates that it is “premature” to offer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asylum in Russia, and says he could still win the election in 2017.

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

In Interview with Bild, Putin Says ‘Premature’ to Offer Assad Asylum, and Believes He Could Win Election

In part 2 of an interview with Germany’s Bild published at, President Vladimir  Putin indicates that it is “premature” to offer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asylum in  
Russia, and says he could still win the election in 2017, reports.
The interview is published in full at The Interpreter has translated the relevant section on Syria:

Bild: Let’s go to the topic of Syria if you will. We are saying that here we are fighting  common challenges. That concerns the joint struggle against the Islamic State in Iraq and  Syria. But in the West, some claim that the Russian Armed Forces in Syria are waging a  battle not with the ISIS forces but with rebels who are fighting Assad above all. What do  you say in reply? That Russia is bombing the wrong people?

Putin: They all lie. Look, the video materials that appear as grounds for this thesis  appeared even before our pilots began to make strikes on the positions of the terrorists.  And there is confirmation of this. But our critics try not to notice that.

American pilots, I think, by mistake, of course, delivered a strike on the hospital in  Afghanistan, in Kunduz, on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz. People were killed, doctors suffered and died, too. They try to keep silent about that in the Western  press, they don’t say anything, they forget and quickly, quickly they all forget. They  mentioned it a few times then buried it. They mentioned it a few time because there were foreigners, Doctors without Borders.

In fact, US newspapers such as the New York Times covered the story extensively and multiple times and followed up on the investigation, and generally the Western press was critical of the bombing.

Putin: Who remembers the destroyed weddings? 100 plus people were killed with one strike.

And these false stories are constantly replicated — regarding our pilots delivering strikes  on civilian facilities. If you consider, for example, the “living oil pipelines” consisting  of thousands of gasoline and oil trucks to be civilian facilities, then yes, you could  consider that our pilots are striking such facilities but everybody strikes them —  Americans, French and anyone.

Bild: But unquestionably, Syrian President Assad is striking his own population. Can you say that Assad is your ally?

Putin: You know, this is always a very nuanced topic. After all, I think that President  Assad has made quite a few mistakes in the course of the development of the conflict in  Syria. But surely you and I both know that the conflict would not have attained such a scale if at the outset it was not supported from outside with enormous quantities of cash, arms and fighters?  In such conflicts, of course, regrettably, to enormous regret, the civilian  
population suffers.

But who bears responsibility for that? The government, which strives to preserve sovereignty and fights with these anti-constitutional actions, or those who organized such armed struggle with the government?

And regarding whether Assad is an ally or not an ally, and what we want in Syria. You know,  I’ll tell you precisely what we don’t want: we don’t want the situation in Syria to develop as it did in Libya or Iraq. You have to give credit where it is due, I’ve already said this to President  Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, if he had not taken responsibility upon himself, if he had not displayed courage and had not take control of the country into his hands, what happened  in Libya could have happened in Egypt.

In my view, every effort must be made to reinforce the legitimate government in the countries of the region. That concerns Syria. To restore  and reinforce the structures being formed of government in such a country as Iraq, in such a country as Libya. To achieve stabilization in such a country as Somalia, let’s say, in other  countries. To reinforce the government in Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean that everything  has to be left as it is. On the basis of this stabilization, of course, political reforms  must be made.

As for Syria, I believe that we must move in the direction of constitutional reform. This is  a complicated process, of course. And then on the basis of a new Constitution, conduct early elections for the president and the parliament. And only the Syrian people themselves  can determine who will rule the country and how. Only in that case will a situation of  
stability, security be created, and the conditions for the growth of the economy and  prosperity of people be created, to create conditions so that they don’t flee to Europe, but  live in their own homes in their own homeland.
Putin often talks about the need for the Syrian people to “decide themselves,” but this  overlooks the harsh reality of the devastation of the population by Assad’s and now Russia’s  
bombing; the massive displacement and refugee population, and basic issues like lack of  press freedom. By insisting on a sequencing that involves “stability” with Assad before any  
other arrangements, the very factors that make the people of Syria unfree can only continue.
Bild next takes up that very issue with Putin.
Bild: But in your opinion, is Assad a legitimate leader if he allows the destruction of his  own population?

Putin: He doesn’t strive for the destruction of his own people. He is fighting those who come to him with weapons in their hands. And if the civilian population suffers from this, I think above all, the responsibility is on those who fight him with weapons in their hands, and those who help the armed groups.

But as I’ve said, that does not mean that everything is good there and everyone is right. That is precisely why I believe that political reforms must be made. The first step in that direction should be work on a new Constitution and its adoption.

Bild: If Assad, despite expectations, loses the elections, will you give him asylum in your country?

Putin: You know, it seems to me that it is premature to discuss this. We offered Snowden asylum, and that was more complicated then offering it to Assad.

First, we must give the opportunity to the Syrian people to have their say. And I assure you that this will proceed in democratic fashion in such a way that perhaps Assad will not have to go anywhere. And it is not important whether he is president or not.

You spoke about where and how we are delivering strikes and now you speak about Assad as our ally. Are you aware that we are supporting the combat operations of armed opposition which fights ISIL? The armed opposition to Assad, who are fighting against ISIL. And in fact we are coordinating with them our join operations and supporting their  offensive operations with our air strikes on various sections of the front. this is a question of hundreds, thousands of armed people who are fighting ISIS. We are supporting both the army of Assad as well as the armed opposition. Some of them have publically announced this, some prefer to remain silent but the work is underway.

Bild: Finally I would like to address the topic which we haven’t spoke about, namely, the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as if we didn’t have enough already with Syria. Dos this mean that these disputes may lead us to a very serious conflict?

Putin: This definitely complicates our work in resolving the Syrian problem for sure, and resolving the problem of the struggle with terrorism, and resolving the problems of ending the flow of refugees to Europe. That’s entirely obvious.

Whether this will lead to a major regional clash, I don’t know. I don’t want to speak or even think in these categories. We have formed very good relations with Iran, and stable partner relations are being forced with Saudi Arabia.

Of course we regret what happened there. But don’t you have the death penalty? [Note: Germany long ago abolished the death penalty; in the US, capital punishment is legal in 31 states–The Interpreter].

Putin: We have abolished the use of the death penalty, despite the very difficult struggle with terrorism in the 1990s and early 2000s. We we do not have it now. There are countries in which the death penalty is applied — Saudi Arabia, the United States, and several others.

We regret that this happened, all the more because this was a clergyman, who did not struggle against Saudi Arabia with a weapon in his arms.  Meanwhile, the attack on the embassy is absolutely unacceptable in the modern world, that’s true. As far as I know, the Iranian authorities have arrested several instigators of this pogrom. If our participation in this is needed somehow, we are prepared to do everything so that the conflict be eliminated as quickly as possible.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick