The transcript of Christiane Amanpour's full interview with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev can be found here.
By Mick Krever, CNN
The killings portrayed in photos allegedly proving torture of prisoners by the Assad regime are “crimes,” but it is not clear who is responsible and the claims must be proven in court, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview that aired Wednesday.
“These are crimes, of course,” Medvedev told Amanpour at his office outside Moscow, but the case “should have firm proof legally.”
“I know there are a lot of victims, and that's very sad, but that does not mean that the existence of victims or victims in a particular place is the proof that those are the victims of the regime and not the bandits who were doing something or any other force.”
The investigation alleging that the Syrian regime is murdering prisoners on a mass scale, first reported by Amanpour on Monday, was authored by a team of international legal and forensic experts and based on thousands of photographs provided by a Syrian defector.
The defector claimed to have worked as a photographer at a military hospital that received dead bodies from detention centers.
Amanpour showed Medvedev gruesome pictures of emaciated corpses and torsos covered from neck to groin in bludgeon wounds.
“You know, in my university where I was studying law, I was taught that until the fact of guilt is proved in court, a person cannot be claimed guilty,” he said.
“We cannot say that Assad is a criminal without investigation,” he told Amanpour. “So probably this other trial should be held on the territory of Syria after the conflict subsides. It's the right of the Syrian people.”
Syria peace talks
Medvedev echoed the sentiments of most international stakeholders in calling for a negotiated resolution to Syria’s civil war.
Talks striving to reach those ends got underway Wednesday in Switzerland; in notable absence was Iran, whose attendance was the subject of considerable controversy in days leading up to the conference.
The U.N. invited Iran to the talks, but the U.S. immediately criticized the move, saying that Iran had not agreed to the framework laid out in a previous conference.
On Monday, the U.N. rescinded Iran’s invitation.
That decision, Medvedev told Amanpour, was “unacceptable.”
“Can someone think that [the] Syrian problem may be seriously discussed without the Iranian factor?”
“When the international community or the U.N. first extends an invitation, then withdraws an invitation – that is not consistent and that does not contribute to positive result.”
Medvedev emphasized that neither he nor President Vladimir Putin believes that Assad is a “strategic partner,” but that as the current Syrian president, Assad “cannot be ignored or disregarded.”
Of the many challenges facing negotiators in Switzerland is the fact that the Syrian opposition is extremely fractured.
There are some in Syria who “do not like the regime,” Medvedev said, and “that’s understandable – but there are also bandits.”
“These are bandits, the terrorists, this Al Qaeda; which negotiations or talks can we have with them?”
“Who is to blame? I believe everyone is to blame.”
Russia faces own security concerns at Sochi
Russia is facing its own security concerns, less than three weeks away from the opening of its Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi.
“This is a major event for our country, for the whole of the world,” Medvedev said. “With respect to the threats: on public events, there are always some threats. That's not only in this country but also in others.”
Russia is aware of the threats, he told Amanpour, and will take them into account as it mobilizes its security efforts.
“A huge number of policemen will watch the process of the games,” he said. “Some other forces will [also] be involved, and we will control … the facilities and venues.”
The threat to the Sochi games, he said, is no greater than to any other.
“It's a globalized world, and we know about other deplorable developments in other countries, including the United States during sports events,” Medvedev said, in what seemed like a reference to a bombing at the Boston marathon last year.
American Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that in an interview with CNN this weekend that U.S. authorities were not getting sufficient cooperation from Russia.
"Their level of concern is great,” Rogers said, “but we don't seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon.”
“We are confident that we'll be able to protect all the athletes that will arrive and we will hold the Winter Games,” Medvedev said
The Olympics will also be the most expensive in history – $50 billion and rising – but Medvedev said that that figure reflected more than just spending on the Olympics infrastructure.
There were “difficult infrastructural problems” in Sochi, he said, that built up over decades. “There was no water supplies, proper water supplies. There was bad power supply.”
So it was serendipitous, he seemed to suggest, that the Games were happening in the region, so that the infrastructure in general could be brought up to date.
Medvedev: Anti-gay law not implemented in practice
Russia’s increasing visibility on the world stage has not been entirely positive; it has come under intense criticism for a law passed last year aimed at suppressing so-called gay propaganda.
The legislation makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality.
“I haven't … heard that this law was applied in practice,” Medvedev said. “There are many talks, but no application of the law, practical application.”
Most of the criticism of the law, he said, has come from outside the country.
“So I believe that this has nothing in common with the real situation in our country.”