Russian President Vladimir Putin says he broadly supports US plans to try to push forward the Syria peace process, but signalled in an angry attack that he was in no mood to forgive Turkey for shooting down a Russian warplane.
Addressing almost 1400 reporters in a cavernous hall inside a Moscow conference centre, the Russian leader said on Thursday he generally backed a US plan to prepare a UN resolution on Syria even though differences between Moscow and Washington remained.
But he signalled Moscow was not yet ready to withdraw its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying a new constitution needed to be drawn up and elections held to determine the fate of the conflict-torn country.
"We believe that only the Syrian people can decide who should govern them," Putin told an annual news conference, saying Moscow would continue its air strikes in Syria for as long as the Syrian army continued its own military operations.
His comments followed a visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State John Kerry this week and come on the eve of a meeting of world powers in New York on Friday to discuss Syria.
Putin used the start of the news conference, a set-piece of Russian political life, to seek to reassure voters over the troubled state of Russia's economy.
Buffeted by Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis, falling oil prices, and a weakening rouble, Russia's economy is forecast to shrink by around 4 per cent this year, its sharpest contraction since the global financial crisis.
"The Russian economy has passed the crisis. At least, the peak of the crisis," said Putin.
Answering a question about Ukraine - with which relations remained strained over a smouldering conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea - Putin appeared to confirm the presence of Russian Special Forces in east Ukraine for the first time.
He said he wanted better ties with Kiev overall.
But he had no such charitable words for Turkey and made clear he was in no mood to forgive Ankara for shooting down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24.
Russia imposed economic sanctions on Ankara in retaliation. Using salty language, Putin mused that Turkey may have been trying to ingratiate itself with Washington by shooting the plane down.