Putin accepts 'changes' in Syria
Tough-talking president makes strongest comment yet he is ready to forsake Assad
Russian President Vladimir Putin distanced himself further than ever before from his long-time ally in Syria yesterday, saying he understands Syria needs change.
Putin's assessment came just a week after his top envoy for Syria said forces loyal to the country's leader, Bashar al-Assad, were losing control.
"We are not preoccupied that much with the fate of the Assad regime; we realise what's going on there and that the family has been in power for 40 years," Putin said.
"Undoubtedly, there is a call for changes."
Analysts have suggested for months that the Kremlin is resigned to losing its long-time ally.
At his annual news conference, which lasted four hours, Putin said Moscow stood for a settlement that would "prevent the country from breakup and an endless civil war". "Agreements based on a military victory can't be effective," he said.
A combative Putin also backed a tough bill making it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children in a reprisal for a new US human rights law.
The legislation, which would end about 1,000 adoptions a year, is the latest sign of a rapid decline in Russia-US relations since Putin's election in March.
The news conference followed speculation about Putin's health, after he decided not to follow his recent foreign travel schedule. But Putin looked strong and in control as he rattled off economic statistics and defended his iron-willed rule.
He denied running an "authoritarian system" in which all branches of power and most facets of society closely followed the dictates of Kremlin rule.
"Concerning my health, I will just give the traditional answer: in your dreams," Putin joked.
He only appeared to become defensive when asked about his two adult daughters. "Everything is fine with my children," Putin snapped. "I am proud of them."
Looking back on his 13 years in the top job, he said: "I don't see any such major systemic mistakes that I would now want to turn back or somehow correct."
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse