MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned the United States and its allies against launching a unilateral military strike against Damascus, saying the West’s case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In an interview published Wednesday by the Associated Press, Putin said Russia is developing a plan of action in case the United States does attack Syria without United Nations approval, but he declined to go into specifics.
He said Russia — Syria’s most stalwart ally — has frozen the shipment of certain parts for S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that it had agreed to sell to Assad’s regime.
Putin said that if the United States and its allies could provide sufficient evidence that Assad’s forces carried out a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb, Russia would consider allowing United Nations action against Syria.
But Putin told the Associated Press that he remains skeptical, in part because it seems unlikely that Assad would risk international repercussion by using long-banned chemical weapons to kill hundreds of men, women and children.
“It ought to be convincing,” Putin said. “It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by the special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”
The lengthy interview took place at his country residence late Tuesday night, with both the Associated Press and Russian television’s First Channel in attendance. Putin touched on his country’s relations with the United States, his sometimes “vexed” but generally constructive relations with Obama, and a host of other topics — including Syria, Snowden, gay rights and Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny.
“This man brings problems wherever he appears,” Putin said of Navalny, Russia’s most famous anti-corruption campaigner. Navalny, who memorably labeled Putin’s United Russia the “party of crooks and thieves,” is currently appealing a six-year sentence for extortion on charges that he claims were trumped up at the Kremlin’s behest.
“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia,” he said. “And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either.”
About Obama, he said, “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.”
On Syria, Putin emphasized the points that he and other Russian officials have made previously: He said it would have been “ludicrous” for Assad’s forces to use chemical weapons, when the whole world was watching and they were gaining the upper hand against the rebels.