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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia: Keeping Syria's Assad in Power Not Crucial

by VOA News November 03, 2015

The Kremlin is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest supporters, but a Russian spokeswoman said Moscow's policy does not depend, as a matter of principle, on Assad remaining in power.

'We have never said Assad's staying in power is a principled aspect' of Russian policy on Syria, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Ehko Moskvy ('echo of Moscow') radio Tuesday.

However, Zakharova also argued strongly against the idea that regime change – a demand of many opposition groups that have been battling the Assad government for more than three years – is an answer to the Syrian crisis.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that international talks on Syria's future should not be hung up over what happens to Assad.

The United States has said Assad is the cause of the bloodshed and any leader who used bombs and chemical weapons against his own people cannot be any part of Syria's future.

'Regional catastrophe'

Regime change in Syria at this time, she said, could become a 'regional catastrophe,' making even worse the effects of the civil war – over 250,000 people killed since 2011, with millions more driven from their homes as refugees.

Zakharova warned that Syria could become 'a global disaster,' according to a Tass news agency report.

'The fate of the president should be decided by the Syrian people,' she told Ekho Moskvy.

Russia has stepped up its support for Assad during the past two months, and its warplanes are now based in Syria, carrying out airstrikes.

Russian diplomats and military officials contend the airstrikes are aimed at Islamic State extremists, but that claim is widely disputed by the U.S. and others, who say the Russians have too often bombed Syrian opposition fighters who have no connection with, or allegiance to, the Islamic State group.

Denies claims

Russia denies its airstrikes in Syria have been carried out in such an indiscriminate manner.

A U.S.-led coalition is also carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, and last week U.S. President Barack Obama announced he was sending about 50 U.S. special-forces troops to Syria to support and advise local fighters battling against the Islamic State group.

The White House said American troops in Syria will not directly engage in raids or combat.

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