MOSCOW (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could have avoided civil war by responding more quickly to demands for political change, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.
In comments to Russia's English-language state television network RT, Putin repeated that Russia is not acting as an advocate for Assad and blamed the West for violent upheaval in the Middle East.
Putin's remarks signaled no change in Russia's position on Syria. Moscow says it is not trying to prop up Assad but that his exit must not be a precondition for a negotiated resolution of a conflict that has killed more than 80,000 people so far.
"The country was ripe for serious changes, and the leadership should have felt that in time and started making changes. Then what is happening would not have happened," Putin said.
Pointing to violence in Iraq, Libya, Syria and other states, Putin said: "Why is this happening? Because certain people from outside think that if you shape the whole region under the same style, which some people like and some call democracy, then there will be peace and order. That is not so at all."
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Andrew Roche