Vladimir Yakunin, a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has defended Russian arms shipments to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Interviewed by German news magazine Der Spiegel's Website on Thursday, Yakunin said, "We think that Assad is still supported by a majority of the population. And we know that Assad's opponents are being armed from abroad." Denying "concrete knowledge" about suspected weapons on a plane forced to land in Turkey this week, he continued, "You shouldn't equate the two. Russia has delivered - and this happened on the basis of long-existing contracts - to the legitimate, internationally-recognized government of Syria. But what the West wants is regime change, the toppling of the government."
Asked about human rights violations committed by the Assad regime, Yakunin answered, "The democratization of the Middle East, as propagated by the West, leads to an increase in the influence of Islamists, who had previously been confined to the margins of society."