Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed doubt over the viability of a plan to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to the international community as a way to avert an American military strike. the plan his country fought for in order to stave off American intervention in Syria on Thursday, speaking before foreign journalists and businessmen at the Valdai Club.
“I can’t say whether it will be possible to finalize these projects but all that we have seen is reassuring that it will be done,” Putin said before foreign journalists and businessmen at the Valdai Club. Putin’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, signed an agreement with Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as their Syrian counterpart, detailing the handover of Syria’s chemical weapons to international control.
“Responsibility for Syria lies on all, not just Russia,” Putin said. Russia brokered the deal with Syrian support at the height of international fervor over the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed nearly 1,500 people in August.
“They say evil needs to be punished. What’s evil there? That Assad’s family [has] been in power for 40 years?” Putin asked rhetorically. Russia and Syria maintain that rebel forces used chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack, in defiance of western intelligence and inferences drawn from a U.N. inspector report.
Although Russia has used its vote among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to block any action against the Assad regime during Syria’s two-and-a-half year old civil war, he said Thursday that Russia would not support one side in the conflict.
“We don’t have exceptional interests in Syria and upholding the power there,” Putin said. “We are fighting for international law.”
Putin hinted Thursday that he might seek a fourth term, which would make him the longest-serving president since Josef Stalin. He held the office for two terms beginning in 2000, then became prime minister in 2008 to abide by the country’s consecutive term limited. Ushered back into office in 2012, Putin said he would not exclude the possibility of a fourth term in 2018.
NBC’s Albina Kovalyova contributed reporting from Moscow. The AP also contributed to this report.