TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A Kremlin spokesman denied reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin sent a senior intelligence official to Damascus late last year to ask the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to step down.
A report in the Financial Times on Friday quoted western intelligence sources detailing the apparent mission of Colonel-General Igor Sergun to Damascus.
According to the newspaper report, Sergun delivered a message from Putin that it was time for Assad to stand down, but was firmly rebuffed by the Syrian leader, The Guardian reports.
“No, that is not the case,” said Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman on Friday, when asked about the mission.
Moscow entered the Syrian conflict in late September, providing air support for Assad’s army. Moscow says Assad is the legitimate ruler of the country and must play a part in any settlement, while the west has seen Assad as part of the problem rather than the solution.
Little is known about Sergun’s apparent mission to Damascus, or indeed about Sergun’s biography at all. Head of GRU, the highly secretive military intelligence agency, he died on 3 January, just weeks after the mission to Damuscus.