Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has warned of endless Afghan-type civil war in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad is removed “unconstitutionally”.

“We fear that if the country’s current leadership is removed from power by unconstitutional methods, the opposition and today’s leadership could simply swap their places — the former become the leadership, the latter become the opposition. The civil war will then drag on for who knows how long,” Mr. Putin said.

“We do not want the situation to evolve along the bloody scenario of a civil war that will continue endlessly as in Afghanistan,” Mr. Putin told a joint press conference with visiting Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

In a sign that Russia may support a “constitutional” change of power in Syria, Mr. Putin said that “structural changes” in government should come after the fighting stops and constitutional changes are negotiated.

“We believe that the course of action should be the following: halting the violence on both sides, conducting negotiations, searching for a solution, laying down a constitutional basis for the future society, and only then introducing structural changes, not vice versa. Doing things the other way around would only cause chaos,” Mr Putin said.

The Russian leader reiterated his faith in the power of the United Nations.

“The agreements reached in the U.N. on extending the U.N. mission testify to the fact that despite certain differences in defining what is primary and what is secondary, compromises can be found on the U.N. floor and a settlement can be reached among all sides for the common good and the benefit of the Syrian people,” said Mr. Putin.

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