1. Barely before he even starts, Putin fires a volley of this friendly fire" first: "President al-Assad has made many mistakes in the course of the Syrian conflict."
2. Putin calls the question about whether al-Assad is Moscow's ally "subtle" and "precisely" (his word) moves away from an affirmation. The journalist then rephrases the question by asking whether Putin believes that al-Assad is a legitimate leader. Putin does not affirm this either but declares that granting asylum to Snowden was far more harder than to do the same for President Assad.
3. Putin, however, does insist that Syria should held:
1) early presidential elections and
2) parliamentary elections and that Syria needs to have
3) a new Constitution (instead of the current secular, anti-imperialist one).4. The impact and meaning of this is than wrapped up in the pious formula "It is the Syrian people themselves who must decide who and how should run their country." However, the West and Putin already made up their mind that the Syrians must have new elections and a new constitution.
5. Putin: "We granted asylum to Mr Snowden, which was far more difficult than to do the same for Mr al-Assad."
6. Putin: "al-Assad will probably not need to leave the country at all."
7. Putin: "And it is not important whether he [al-Assad] remains President or not." (Is it as important or unimportant whether Putin himself remains President too perhaps?)
8. Putin: "we support military operations of the armed opposition ... against al-Assad that is fighting ISIS."
9. One important thing: this anti-government opposition also happens to be decisively anti-Russian as well. Do you know that, Mr. Putin?
10. Putin does not call the Syrian Arab Army by its proper name (as usual) and dubs it--in accordance with the US template--"al-Assad's army." How about Putin's army or Putin's forces--would that sound in the spirit of reciprocity equally fine and proper--the way Putin talks of an ally?
11. For Putin, the executions of people, including a Muslim cleric, in Saudi Arabia, are not condemnable, but merely "regrettable."
From the Kremlin's official transcript:
Q: Can we say that al-Assad is your ally?
Vladimir Putin: You know, this is a rather subtle issue. I think that President al-Assad has made many mistakes in the course of the Syrian conflict. ... Regarding your question if al-Assad is an ally or not and our goals in Syria. I can tell you precisely what we do not want to happen: we do not want the Libyan or Iraqi scenario to be repeated in Syria. ... Situations in Somalia and other countries .... State authority in Afghanistan ... As far as Syria is concerned, I think that we should work towards a constitutional reform. It is a complicated process. Then, early presidential and parliamentary elections should be held, based on the new Constitution. It is the Syrian people themselves who must decide who and how should run their country. ...
Question: But do you believe al-Assad is a legitimate leader if he allows the destruction of his country’s population?
Vladimir Putin: It is not his goal to destroy his country’s population. He is fighting those who rose up against him with deadly force. ... As I have already said, though, this does not mean that everything is all right out there and that everyone is right. This is exactly why I believe political reforms are needed so much there. The first step in that direction should be to develop and adopt a new Constitution.
Question: If, contrary to expectations, al-Assad loses the elections, will you grant him the possibility of asylum in your country?
Vladimir Putin: I think it is quite premature to discuss this. We granted asylum to Mr Snowden, which was far more difficult than to do the same for Mr al-Assad. First, the Syrian people should be given the opportunity to have their say. I assure you, if this process is conducted democratically, then al-Assad will probably not need to leave the country at all. And it is not important whether he remains President or not.
You have been talking about our targets and means, and now you are talking about al-Assad being our ally. Do you know that we support military operations of the armed opposition that combats ISIS? Armed opposition against al-Assad that is fighting ISIS. We coordinate our joint operations with them and support their offensives by airstrikes in various sections of the frontline. This is hundreds, thousands of armed people fighting ISIS. We support both the al-Assad’s army and the armed opposition. ...
Vladimir Putin: ... Of course, we regret that these things happened there [in Saudi Arabia]. But you have no death penalty in your country. ... We regret this has happened, especially given that the cleric had not been fighting against Saudi Arabia with lethal force. Yet it is true that an embassy attack is a totally unacceptable occurrence in the modern world. ...
Putin: As far as democracy is concerned, the ruling classes usually talk about freedom to pull the wool over the eyes of those whom they govern. There is nothing new about democracy in Russia. ... But in a parliamentary democracy, the person number one is the Prime Minister, who can Head the Government an unlimited number of times.