Putin says new elections key for ending Syrian crisis

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The Syrian opposition should be encouraged to participate in government work to help a dialogue that can lead to new elections being held in the country, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Friday.

Speaking to Russia’s top economic forum, Putin said that creating a new government that will have the trust of most of Syria’s population is key to ending the five-year conflict. He said that this goal can only be achieved through drafting a new constitution and holding new elections.

Putin said that Syrian President Bashar Assad, who visited Moscow last year, has pledged to help achieve that.

“There is nothing more democratic than elections,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said he expects the U.S. to work with its allies in the region to encourage the Syrian opposition to engage in a constructive dialogue with the government.

“It’s necessary to think about incorporating some opposition representatives in the existing government structures,” he said.

Earlier Friday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov strongly warned Washington against striking Assad’s forces, saying it would fuel turmoil across the entire region.

An attempt to topple Assad’s government “wouldn’t help a successful fight against terrorism and could plunge the region into total chaos,” Peskov said.

He made the statement while asked to comment about an internal document in which dozens of U.S. State Department employees called for military action against Assad’s forces.

President Barack Obama called for regime change in Syria early on in the five-year conflict, but so far has only authorized strikes against the Islamic State group and other U.S.-designated terror groups in Syria.

Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since last September, helping Assad’s forces regain some ground.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the calls for a military action against Assad “can’t but worry any reasonable person.”

“Who would bear responsibility for that?” he asked. “Or shall we see the same Hollywood-style smile as it happened already in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya?”

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