COTTBUS, Germany

Kremlin-backed English-language news channel Russia Today has nabbed an exclusive interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, reflecting the station’s role as an international mouthpiece for Russian domestic and foreign policy.

In the interview, due to air Friday, Assad says he will never leave his country, despite increasing calls for him to step down to end the bitter civil war raging in Syria. He adds that threats of foreign intervention in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives could seriously destabilize the region and bring consequences that would be “more than the world can afford.”

Interviewed by RT presenter Sophie Shevardnadze — granddaughter of Eduard Shevardnadze, the last Soviet foreign minister and former president of Georgia — Assad claimed Syria was “the last stronghold of secularism and stability” in the Middle East.

“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” Assad said. “I am Syrian. I was made in Syria. I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

Russia, along with China, has been one of the most vocal opponents of Western attempts to end the violence in Syria, which broke out in February 2011.

The interview, which took place in the Syrian capital Damascus, will air just three days after Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev stressed that the Syrian people must be allowed to choose their destiny without foreign pressure or interference.