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Syria's Assad Says West Wants To Weaken Russia

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Western countries are trying to weaken Russia by turning Ukraine into a puppet state.

In comments published March 27 in Russia's official Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Assad said the same tactic had been used against Syria. He said: "Firstly, because both countries are important for Russia, and secondly because the goal in both cases is to weaken Russia and create a puppet state."

The U.S. and EU have imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its role in the crisis in Ukraine. Russia is a long-standing ally of Assad.

Assad also said Syria would welcome an increased Russian military presence at Syrian ports, including at Tartus, where Russia maintains what it calls a naval supply point.

Meantime, Interfax quotes an unnamed source in the Russian Naval Staff as saying there are currently no plans to upgrade Tartus into a full naval base.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Interfax