Syria’s internal problems can only be solved once the country is free of terrorists, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, adding that Moscow is supporting Damascus to ensure that extremists never reach Russia’s borders.

Damascus has to take responsibility for the country’s political and social problems, but these internal issues would not be resolved by allowing Syria to be overrun by extremists, Putin told RT Arabic, explaining Russia’s rationale for entering the conflict there in September 2015.

We came to Syria to support the legitimate government… It does not mean that they do not have internal problems… It does not mean that the current leadership is not responsible for what is going on there. They are, but it does not mean that we were to allow terrorist organisations to capture Syria and to establish a terrorist pseudo-state there.

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“We still remember what happened in Russia’s North Caucasus region not that long ago,” Putin said, referring to the bloody conflicts in Chechnya and making the case for protecting Russian borders from terrorism spill-over.

We could not allow militants to move to former Soviet republics. We do not have hard borders or a visa regime with them. We could not allow militants to infiltrate Russia from there.

Supporting “rebels” in the Middle East and North Africa, like Washington and its Gulf and European allies has routinely done, has had disastrous effects for global security, Putin pointed out. The invasion of Iraq led to an insurgency that later created Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS), he said, and NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” in Libya created a “chaos and confusion” that is still seen today.