Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to early parliamentary elections and to share some power with his opponents, a concession that may facilitate a broader international coalition against Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Russia would consider participating in the coalition and the Russian president has already discussed the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Putin told reporters in Vladivostok on Friday. Russia has been pushing for a wider campaign against Islamic State that would include Assad, something the U.S. and Europe have opposed. “There is a general understanding that joint efforts in the fight against terrorism should go hand by hand with the political process in Syria,” Putin said. Assad “agrees to this,” and has also agreed to early parliamentary elections and to include “healthy opposition” in the government, said Putin, a key ally of the Syrian president. Four Syrian lawmakers couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Syria has been locked in civil war since 2011 with an array of forces trying to overthrow Assad. The conflict has become the Middle East’s biggest humanitarian and economic disaster of the past 25 years, displacing at least 10 million people and facilitating the rise of the Islamic State militant group, which now controls a huge swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
“It’s too early” to talk about Russian military action in Syria, though “we are considering various options,” Putin said. Russia is actively helping the Assad government with weapons and military training, he said.
Putin’s comments came after reports this week that Russia is ramping up its involvement in Syria. Russian troops are fighting with Assad’s forces and images of what appeared to be Russian planes and drones in the skies over Syria have been published, the U.K.’s The Telegraph newspaper reported on Sept. 2. Russia’s Defence Ministry has denied any direct military intervention.