MOSCOW (Reuters) - Any solution to the conflict in Syria must ensure President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his opponents do not simply swap roles and fight on forever, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
In what appeared to be his first direct comments on the possibility of a post-Assad Syria, Putin said he did not believe that a military solution could hold.
"We are not concerned about the fate of Assad's regime. We understand what is going on there and that the family has held power for 40 years," Putin told a news conference.
"We are worried about a different thing - what next? We simply don't want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities ... and (we don't want) this to go on forever."
The West and some Arab states accuse Russia of shielding Assad after Moscow blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to increase pressure on Damascus to end the violence that has already killed more than 40,000 people.
Putin said the Syrian people would ultimately decide their own fate.
"We are for a solution being found to the problem that would save the region and the country from, firstly, falling apart, and from a never-ending civil war. Our position is not to keep Assad and his regime in power at any cost," he said.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage