NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia – President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia “doesn’t exclude” supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television, Putin said Moscow has provided some components of the S-300 air defense missile system to Syria but has frozen further shipments. He suggested that Russia may sell the potent missile systems elsewhere if Western nations attack Syria without U.N. Security Council backing.
The interview Tuesday night was the only one he granted prior to the summit of G-20 nations in St. Petersburg, which opens Thursday. The summit was supposed to concentrate on the global economy but now looks likely to be dominated by the international crisis over allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the country’s civil war.
Putin said he felt sorry that President Barack Obama canceled a one-on-one meeting in Moscow that was supposed to have happened before the summit. But he expressed hope the two would have serious discussions about Syria and other issues in St. Petersburg.
“We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed. But I would like to repeat once again that global mutual interests form a good basis for finding a joint solution to our problems,” Putin said.
The Russian leader, a year into his third term as president, appeared to go out of his way to be conciliatory amid a growing chill in U.S.-Russian relations. The two countries have sparred over Syria, the Edward Snowden affair, Russia’s treatment of its opposition and the diminishing scope in Russia for civil society groups that receive funding from the West.
Putin said it was “ludicrous” that the government of President Bashar Assad – a staunch ally of Russia – would use chemical weapons at a time when it was holding sway against the rebels.
The Obama administration says 1,429 people died in the Aug. 21 attack in a Damascus suburb. Casualty estimates by other groups are far lower. A U.N. inspection team is awaiting lab results on tissue and soil samples it collected while in Syria before completing a report.
“If there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council,” Putin said. “And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”
He said he “doesn’t exclude” backing the use of force against Syria at the United Nations if there is objective evidence proving that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its people. But he strongly warned Washington against launching military action without U.N. approval, saying it would represent an aggression.