Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to early parliamentary elections and to establish contacts with the “healthy opposition,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
Russia would also consider participating in an international coalition to combat Islamic State, 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 coalition against ISIS that would include the Assad government, 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, Putin, a key ally of the Syrian president, said.
Syria has been locked in civil war since 2011 with an array forces trying to overthrow Assad. The conflict has plunged the country into the Middle East’s biggest humanitarian and economic disaster of the past 25 years and contributed to the growing strength of Islamic State militant group, which now control a huge swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
"It is 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 support, he said.
Putin comments came after press 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 Telegraph reported on Sept. 2.
Russia has also been at the center of a flurry of diplomatic activity focused on the Syrian conflict. It has held separate talks with members of the Syrian government and the opposition, as well as with Arab leaders, including the king of Jordan.