MOSCOW (Sputnik) : Syrian President Bashar Assad was interviewed by Sputnik after his summit with Putin. Assad stressed that modern conflicts between rival powers are waged as proxy wars, citing Kiev’s “army of Nazis” and Western-backed jihadists in Syria. The Syrian leader believes only a coalition of countries led by Russia and China can topple the US hegemony.
Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Wednesday in the Kremlin to discuss economic and political cooperation. Sputnik was the first international news agency to interview the Syrian leader, immediately after the talks.
Sputnik: Mr. President, may you please share with us the key results of the meeting with President Putin and whether we should expect any new developments in Russian-Syrian relations?
President Assad: In past years, in the years of the war in Syria, meetings with President Putin always touched upon important issues. We can say that all the visits were important, but this visit was particularly important in two respects.
The first is political: this was my first meeting with President Putin since the start of the war in Ukraine, and possibly since the end of the coronavirus-related crisis. Because the coronavirus and the war in Ukraine have affected the global situation. Now we see that the alliances and alignments in the world have changed. It was necessary to discuss and analyze this situation to develop a joint Syrian-Russian vision, through which we will determine how we will interact at the next stage.
On the other hand, joint Russian-Syrian commissions have held meetings several times, but their results have not been what we had been striving for. There is also trade exchange and development, but that is still weak. This time, the meeting of the joint commission was different. It in particular focused on investment projects, as well as on the agreement that will be signed. It concerns 40 specific investment projects in energy, electricity, oil, transport, housing, industry-related areas and many other spheres, but with well-defined projects. Mechanisms for the control and successful implementation of these projects were added to them. This is the economic aspect, and this is a new stage in relations. The delegation that went to Russia was large, because work on this deal lasted not months, but years, but intensive work has been carried out in recent months.
The second aspect is global transformations, but in the settlement, we are primarily concerned about the Turkish issue and talks with the Turkish side, taking into account that it is a party to the war in Syria, where its forces are present occupying territory.
Sputnik: Regarding economic cooperation, has any agreement been signed between Russia and Syria following the talks?
President Assad: No, projects are being considered now, and the agreement will be signed later, in a few weeks, but this item [on the agenda] was left for consideration by each company and each project. Each project will later be evaluated individually. This is a part of the mechanism to monitor the projects and their success. However, that will come later. The idea was that there were more goals in the agreement than numbers at the moment.
Sputnik: We are deeply saddened by the suffering that the earthquake has brought to the Syrian people. Russia came to the rescue and our news agency collected and sent 25 tons worth of aid. During the meeting, have you discussed any additional aid from Russia for overcoming the aftermath of the earthquake?
President Assad: This topic was not a key one in the talks today. I expressed my gratitude to President Putin and the Russian government for the assistance, as the Russian government began dealing with this from the first hours, and the Russian army was involved in the rescue operations, and this assistance continues.
But there is another aspect to earthquake support. It concerns rebuilding and returning displaced people to their homes. We need to put in place the mechanisms and agencies in Syria for reconstruction before asking for help from any other side on this vital issue in the next phase, and that is what we are working on. At the core, we are asking countries to participate with us in the process of reconstruction and the return of temporarily displaced people to their homes or other places of residence.
Sputnik: This has been your first meeting with President Putin since the launch of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. During the talks, you expressed support for Russia’s actions. What forms does this support take? Do Syrian volunteer fighters take part in the military operation on Russia’s side?
President Assad: If volunteers were to go there, it would not be on behalf of the Syrian government – they would go directly to those Russian bodies that are dealing with this issue, and we would not know about it. But certainly, the Syrian people are very enthusiastic about supporting Russia for a number of reasons. On the one hand, it is solidarity since the Russian Federation has supported the Syrians in the fight against terrorism; on the other hand, there is a more global view of this war: this particular war will begin changing the world balance since part of the suffering experienced in Syria, Iraq, and many other countries is caused by a unipolar world. When the Russian Federation wins this war, as most Syrians wish, a new world, a safer and more peaceful world will emerge. This is the real perception of Syrians of this war.
Sputnik: Speaking of political support, would Syria recognize Russia’s new borders? Would Syria recognize the new regions that joined Russia?
President Assad: We recognized these regions before they joined Russia, as referendums were held there and their results were announced, and we recognized them. Before these referendums took place, I had received a delegation from the State Duma a few months before the war and told them we were ready to recognize them now. Then we told them that we recognized them [new regions] before Russia [officially] did it. This issue has been clear to us from the very beginning, and we will not hesitate in our position. Syria’s position is clear and firm, at the same time. We are convinced regarding this matter not only for the sake of friendship with Russia, but also because these territories are Russia’s territories. It has been clear throughout history. They were handed over to Ukraine probably around 100 years ago, I believe, [it happened] under Lenin. But Russian people live there, and facts on the ground show that this is Russia’s land. We are convinced in this position.
Sputnik: Syria recognizes the new borders of Russia?
President Assad: Of course. I am saying that these are Russian territories. And even if the war had not happened, this is historically Russian land.
Sputnik: Speaking of global consequences, some argue that this conflict may result in World War III. What’s your take on that?
President Assad: I believe that World War III is underway but it differs in its form. What I mean is that world wars used to be conventional in the past. The armies of several states were fighting against each other. This is also true when it comes to the current situation, but because of modern weaponry, especially nuclear, it is different from conventional war. That’s why wars are now moving toward becoming proxy wars.
That’s why Zelensky is now fighting a war on behalf of the West, using, of course, its army of Nazis. The same goes for terrorists, they are the armies operating on behalf of the West in Syria and other regions.
Sputnik: Mr. President, can you confirm the report, published by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), that the US continues to operate in Syria illegally and train terrorists on its territory, such as in al-Tanf?
President Assad: We have had direct encounters with terrorist groups near the al-Tanf area, and of course, we know from these encounters and from detainees where they came from. Al-Tanf represents an entire terrorist camp, and it has no other goal. What does the US get out of its presence in this area in the heart of the desert? No doubt that they have camps for terrorists that house tens of thousands with their families. From time to time, they send these people to carry out terrorist attacks against the Syrian Army to disperse the units in different directions. We are sure of this, the evidence is actually there.
Sputnik: Do you have any information on terrorist fighters being sent from al-Tanf to Ukraine?
President Assad: Regarding this, we have no evidence, but it’s to be expected. The US redeploys terrorists from one place to another, in addition to the fact that terrorists move on their own. But the terrorists in Syria are what they call “Islamic terrorists”, who hide behind religion. There is no religious war in Ukraine, but they are there, judging by the videos circulating on the internet. They did not go there because of jihad. It is certain that someone has deployed them [there] and undoubtedly this was done under the auspices of the United States and its agents from Western countries. This is a common issue that happens all the time and has nothing to do with Syria or Ukraine, it has to do with the mechanism of action of America and Western countries in the matter of using terrorism as their agent in the wars they are waging. Eventually, there are terrorists who are transferred from other regions, including from Syria, to fight against Russia in Ukraine.
Sputnik: In light of these security threats, have you discussed military cooperation with President Putin? Are you interested in the expansion of this cooperation, including an increase in the number of Russian military bases in Syria?
President Assad: Of course, today we discussed military cooperation, the two defense ministers had a meeting. Usually we do not announce what kind of cooperation will be implemented between us and Russia because it is a military matter, which always has a kind of secrecy. It’s natural. And as for military bases, this is related to a common vision, which has both a political and a military aspect. From a military point of view, we did not discuss this issue. As for the political aspect, the issue of military bases should not be linked to the issue of combating terrorism. The fight against terrorism is today’s topic, but it is temporary. The Russian military presence in any country should not be based on anything temporary. We are talking about international balance, and the presence of Russia in Syria has a meaning related to the balance of power in the world as a country located on the Mediterranean Sea.
Superpowers today cannot defend themselves or play their role by staying within their own borders, they must go beyond them through regional allies around the world or through bases. We believe that if Russia has a desire to expand its bases or increase their number, then this is a matter of a technical or logistical nature. If there is such a desire, then we believe that the expansion of the Russian presence in Syria is good, it will serve this idea. Just like if this expansion happens in other countries, perhaps in other regions, it will serve the same idea. And, yes, we are saying that this is something that may be needed in the future.
Sputnik: Would the expansion of military cooperation include deployment of hypersonic weapons in Syria, for example, ships with Zircon missiles?
President Assad: The difference is in the quality of weapons, but the principle is the same. Of course, if you are to build [military] bases, the goal is not to make these bases weak militarily. The bases are supposed to be capable of having a deterrent or counterbalancing effect, these must be armed with the best weapons, it is natural and logical. Whether it would be hypersonic missiles or any other more advanced weapons now and in the future, the principle is, of course, the same as I said.
Sputnik: How is Moscow helping Syria and Turkiye in terms of the normalization of relations between the countries at this moment? Is there a chance for a meeting between you and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
President Assad: Direct contact between us and the Turkish side are impossible because of the war and the negative role which Turkiye has played in this war, Ankara’s support of terrorists in Syria, because a part of the Turkish army has entered the territory of Syria.
Turkiye for us is an occupying state. Russia’s role is important because Moscow has contacts with Turkiye and good relations with Syria.
We trust the Russian side because it has played a mediator role to make these contacts easier, while doing so within the principles on which Russian policy is based. Among these principles are respect for international law, recognition of the sovereignty of states, the rejection of terrorism, respect for the territorial integrity of Syria and the sovereignty of the Syrian state on its territory, and the need to withdraw illegitimate foreign armed forces from Syria.
In our opinion, anything can change the trajectory of the war and direct it to its conclusion by having fully returned the Syrians their rights, occupied territories, and the full sovereignty of the Syrian state. We need to move in this direction and try, maybe. Sometimes we lose hope that any meaningful results will be achieved, but we cannot lose a single chance without trying to seize that opportunity. After all, this very possibility, in spite of the very slender hope, can become the very solution.
This is what Russia, together with Syria, is working on, making attempts along with other attempts that you are familiar with; there are negotiations in Geneva, in Astana, and other cities. All these negotiations have one aim – to restore stability in Syria.
With regards to a meeting with Erdogan, it’s tied to us reaching a stage where Turkiye is clearly and unambiguously ready for the full withdrawal of the Turkish military from the territory of Syria, for the cessation of supporting terrorism and restoration of the situation to the state it was before the start of the war in Syria.