Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he does not rule out granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time ally.
In an interview with a German paper, he said political reforms were needed in Syria, including a new constitution.
If the next poll was democratic, Mr Assad would not “have to go anywhere, no matter if he is elected president or not”, Mr Putin said.
But should he lose, Mr Putin said he might give him asylum.
“We granted asylum to Snowden,” he said referring to the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013. “That was more difficult than [it would be] to shelter Assad.”
He said the aim in Syria would be to work towards 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 should run their country and how.
“This is the only way to achieve stability and security, to create conditions for economic growth and prosperity, so that people can live in their own homes, in their homeland, rather than flee to Europe.”
Mr Putin launched a bombing campaign in the war-torn country in September to support President Assad’s army.
Though Mr Assad had made “many mistakes” since the conflict began in 2011, he said, the the fighting “would never have escalated to such a degree if it had not been supported from abroad through supplying money, weapons and fighters. Tragically, it is civilians who suffer in such conflicts”.
He also said it was not Mr Assad’s goal to destroy his country’s population: “He is fighting those who rose up against him with deadly force.”
Mr Putin said he did not want to see a scenario like that in Libya or Iraq to be repeated in Syria.
“In my view, no effort should be spared in strengthening legitimate governments in the region’s countries,” he said. “That also applies to Syria.”
Mr Putin spoke in the second half of an interview with German newspaper Bild , which was published in English by the Kremlin on 12 January.
The first part of the interview was published on 11 January.