"We do not have a civil war. It is about terrorism and the support coming from abroad to terrorists to destabilize Syria,” the Syrian president told the Russian station, reprising his oft-repeated charge. “You have divisions, but division does not mean civil war. It is completely different. ... The problem is not between me and my people.”
The Syrian opposition also does not label the conflict a civil war, calling it instead a grass-roots uprising aimed at ousting a murderous dictator.
In the 25-minute interview, which aired Friday and was conducted in the renovated Presidential Palace in Damascus, Assad said forces in the West had worked to turn him into an international villain like former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"The West creates enemies; in the past it was the communism, then it became Islam, and then it became Saddam Hussein,” Assad said. “Now, they want to create a new enemy represented by Bashar.”
Assad also accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of acting like a "caliph" and described him as "the new sultan of the Ottoman,” working in concert with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group.
Turkey has been a major supporter of rebels fighting to oust Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years. The Muslim Brotherhood has also helped bankroll the rebel cause.
Syria’s battered army, which has suffered thousands of casualties and large-scale defections, must get used to fighting a different kind of enemy, Assad said.
“It is a new kind of war; terrorism through proxies, either Syrians living in Syria or foreign fighters coming from abroad,” Assad said. “You have to adapt to this style and it takes time, it is not easy."
Asked about his biggest mistake, Assad responded: "I do not remember now to be frank. ... Sometimes, especially during a crisis, you don't see what's right or wrong until you overcome the situation you are in. “
The Syrian president vowed he would never leave Syria, declaring: “I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."
In the northern city of Aleppo, where rebels and government forces have been fighting for more than three months, graffiti in a rebel-held part of the Old City also urges him to stay: “Bashar, don’t leave. We are coming after you.”
-- Rima Marrouch
Photo: This frame grab taken from Russian television channel RT shows Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during his interview in Damascus. Credit: Agence France-Presse / RT.