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Putin defends policy on Syria

In a press conference Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the US role in toppling Moammar Khadafy.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In a press conference Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the US role in toppling Moammar Khadafy.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Thursday strongly defended Russia’s implacable opposition to military intervention in Syria and he sharply chastised the United States for its role in toppling Moammar Khadafy of Libya, describing that outcome as a mistake that created chaos and ultimately led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher ­Stevens in Benghazi.

Putin, responding to a question at his annual end-of-year news conference, rejected an assertion that Russia was making a mistake, potentially isolating itself and at risk of losing influence in the Middle East, by opposing intervention in Syria, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad is now nearly two years old. Putin pointed to Libya as his evidence that intervention by the NATO alliance of Western ­nations had caused more harm than good.

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‘‘No matter how they explained their position, the state is falling apart,’’ he said. ‘‘Interethnic, inter-clan and intertribal conflicts continue. Moreover, it went as far as the murder of the United States ambassador.’’ He added, ‘‘I was asked here about mistakes: Isn’t it a mistake? And you want us to constantly repeat these mistakes in other countries?’’

Putin insisted that Russia was not acting in defense of ­Assad, but rather to preserve stability.

“We are not concerned with the fate of Assad’s regime,’’ he said.

His remarks about Syria came as UN human rights investigators said in a new report that the Syria crisis had evolved from a battle to oust Assad into more of a sectarian conflict, pitting entire communities against each other and pulling in fighters from the Middle East and North Africa.

Putin expressed worry that the Assad government and the Syrian opposition could merely switch places, with the rebels in power but with the fighting unabated.

In Geneva, an interim report on Syria by a panel of the UN Human Rights Council said that as the conflict approached the end of its second year, it ‘‘has become overtly sectarian in nature.’’

The panel, led by Paulo Pinheiro, a veteran human rights investigator from Brazil, said attacks and reprisals had led communities to arm themselves and to be armed by different parties to the conflict. ‘‘Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or killed inside the country,’’ the panel wrote in the report, which covered developments over the past two months.

“Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides,’’ the panel said.

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