Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted he might grant asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said America was not the “chosen nation” and even recited part of a German classic from the 1800s in its original language from memory during a far-ranging interview with German newspaper BILD.
When asked if Russia would grant asylum to Assad should the Syrian leader be forced to leave his country, Putin responded by comparing the situation to that of American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden was granted asylum in Russia after leaking a trove of classified U.S. government documents.
“It is too early for that. But it was surely more difficult to grant Mr. Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad,” Putin said. “But first the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his county if he loses the election.”
"Barack Obama also says America is the 'chosen nation.' I do not take that seriously, either."
Putin and Russia have come to Assad’s aid in Syria, bombing both ISIS fighters inside the country as well as Assad’s opposition groups. Russia has been accused of killing civilians in the process, though Putin denied those charges.
“Our pilots do not bomb civil targets, except if you call the thousands of tanker trucks – virtually a living pipeline – a civil target,” Putin said, after noting several times the U.S. was accused of bombing civilian targets.
The Russian leader said his preferred outcome in Syria was modelled on recent events in Egypt.
“I can tell you what we do not want: we do not want Syria to end like Iraq or Libya,” Putin said. “Look at Egypt: one has to praise President Sisi for taking over the responsibility and power in an emergency situation, in order to stabilize the country. Therefore, one should try anything to support the legitimate rulers in Syria.”
Putin took several opportunities to criticize the U.S. and even swatted at President Obama, who has called Russia a “regional power.”
“To be honest, I did not take that seriously,” Putin said. “Of course, every head of state and government in the world is allowed to have his opinion and to voice it. Barack Obama also says America is the ‘chosen nation.’ I do not take that seriously, either.”
Later in the interview, Putin needled the U.S. again during a broad discussion of what democracy means.
“There is no uniform, global model for democracy,” he said. “What you mean by democracy differs from county to country. This conception is different in India and in the USA and in Russia or Europe. In the USA, for example, twice in history a politician became President because he had more electoral votes, regardless of the fact that his competitor had more votes from the citizens.”
Putin continued, “Does that mean the USA are not a democracy? Of course they are.”
Near the end of the interview, which was translated into English by Business Insider, Putin showed off by spontaneously recited the beginning of the 1824 classic “Loreley” in German.
“The German language is more precise,” Putin said. “But Russian is more versatile, colorful.”