Russia could give asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he has to leave his country, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published on January 12.
"It was surely more difficult to grant [U.S. national security contractor Edward] Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad," Putin told the German tabloid Bild, referring to the American leaker of classified U.S. documents who was given asylum in Russia in 2013.
Putin said it was too early to say whether Russia would have to give shelter to Assad as part of a transition to a new government for Syria under the road map to a peace deal approved by most parties in the Syrian conflict last year.
"First, the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election," Putin said.
Putin admitted that he thinks Assad has "done much wrong over the course of this conflict."
But he added: "the conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fueled by outside of Syria -- with weapons, money and fighters."
Putin reiterated Russia's position that it is supporting Assad, a longtime ally, in an effort to prevent Syria from becoming an ungovernable failed state.
"We do not want Syria to end like Iraq or Libya," Putin said. "Look at Egypt: one has to praise President Sisi for taking over the responsibility and power in an emergency situation, in order to stabilize the country."
Putin said the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran that broke open last week has exposed a Shi'ite-Sunni Muslim sectarian conflict that exists throughout the Middle East, and will make it more difficult to achieve peace in Syria.
"As for whether this will lead to a major regional clash, I do not know. I would rather not talk or even think in these terms," he said.
With reporting by Bild, Reuters, dpa, TASS, and Interfax