MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is fighting al-Qaida-linked militants in Syria who are using civilians as human shields in the city of Aleppo, President Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks released Wednesday.
Putin, speaking to French TF1 television, also said that Moscow is ready to work with the next U.S. president, but added that "it's easier to work with those who want to work with us."
"If (Donald) Trump says 'I want to work with Russia,' we can only welcome that," he added. "But that work must be mutually honest."
Turning to Aleppo, where Russia's support of the Syrian army offensive has caused international opprobrium, Putin said, "We can't allow terrorists to use people as human shields and blackmail the entire world."
He criticized the U.S. for failing to combat the al-Qaida offshoot in Syria, which this summer renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
"They want to use the combat potential of these terrorist organizations and radicals to pursue their own political goals, in this case, to combat President Assad and his government," Putin said. "They don't understand that they can't simply stall them and force them to abide by civilized norms."
He also blamed Washington for thwarting the U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire in Syria by failing to encourage moderate rebels to break ties with the al-Qaida-linked militants.
Putin said Russia would be willing to deploy its troops along a key highway to Aleppo to protect humanitarian aid deliveries, if the U.S. also deploys its soldiers.
He added that Washington had refused to do so during the unsuccessful cease-fire and was unable to persuade the rebels to pull back from the road in sync with Syrian troops.
He claimed that the rebels fired at a humanitarian convoy outside Aleppo, an attack the U.S. and its allies blamed on Russia.
Putin said he canceled a scheduled visit to France next week after French President Francois Hollande refused to take part in the opening of a Russian church and a cultural center and said he only was willing to discuss Syria.
"If the main reason for my trip to Paris is seen as inappropriate, then we can find another opportunity to meet and talk about Syria," he said.
Putin said Syrian President Bashar Assad should be given a chance to take part in the next election under strict international control and if he agrees to step down if he loses.
"I don't understand who can be uncomfortable with that democratic way of solving the issue of governance," he said.