Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Russia’s Lavrov calls on U.S. to respect Syria’s integrity — After U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Jet

June 19, 2017

The United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in this country, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.

Lavrov made his remarks after a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

Lavrov also said that a new round of peace talks on Syria in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana would tale place on July 10.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)


U.S. Says It Shot Down Syrian Aircraft

Move marks the first time coalition forces have struck a regime plane in the nation’s civil war


Updated June 18, 2017 11:01 p.m. ET

An American warplane shot down a Syrian government jet on Sunday, the Pentagon said, marking the first time in Syria’s civil war that a U.S. pilot has struck a regime plane and signaling an increased willingness by the Trump administration to directly challenge President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it had shot down the Syrian SU-22 after regime forces twice attacked members of American-backed…



Pentagon: US shoots down Syrian aircraft for first time

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows warplanes inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (SANA via AP)


The U.S. military on Sunday shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet that bombed local forces aligned with the Americans in the fight against Islamic State militants, an action that appeared to mark a new escalation of the conflict.

The U.S. had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday’s confrontation, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. While the U.S. has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight IS that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.

The U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Iraq said in a written statement that a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 after it dropped bombs near the U.S. partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The shootdown was near the Syrian town of Tabqa.

The U.S. military statement said it acted in “collective self defense” of its partner forces and that the U.S. did not seek a fight with the Syrian government or its Russian supporters.

According to a statement from the Pentagon, pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces-held town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah in northern Syria, wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.

Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance toward the town, the Pentagon said. Following the pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition called its Russian counterparts “to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” according to the statement.

A few hours later, the Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters and, “in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces,” was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Pentagon said.

“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Pentagon said, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State group. “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat. ”

U.S. forces tangled earlier this month with Syria-allied aircraft in the region. On June 8, U.S. officials reported that a drone likely connected to Iranian-supported Hezbollah forces fired on U.S.-backed troops and was shot down by an American fighter jet. The incident took place in southern Syria near a base where the U.S.-led coalition was training Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group.

An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said at the time that the drone carried more weapons and was considered a direct threat, prompting the shootdown.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Saudi-Qatar crisis puts Syria rebels in tricky position

June 17, 2017


© AFP / by Sammy Ketz | Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – A diplomatic crisis pitting Saudi Arabia against Qatar has put Syrian rebels in a difficult position, analysts say, after rivalries between Gulf backers had already weakened the opposition.

Both Sunni-ruled monarchies sided with the protesters in March 2011, when the war started with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations.

They continued supporting the mostly Sunni rebels when unrest spiralled into conflict between the armed opposition and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the country’s Alawite Shiite minority and is backed by Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran.

But six years later, the rebellion has been plagued by rivalries between Riyadh and Doha, as well as weakened by Russia’s military intervention in support of Assad’s forces.

Moscow’s support for regime forces led to a series of setbacks for the rebels, including their landmark loss in December of second city Aleppo.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and allies, including the United Arab Emirates, severed or reduced diplomatic ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate supports extremism, claims Doha has denied.

“The current rupture puts the Syrian opposition in a very awkward position politically, as nobody wants to have to take sides publicly nor can afford to alienate either side,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

A rebel official in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus said he hoped the crisis between Doha and Riyadh was just “a temporary storm”.

– ‘Sensitive’ issue –

“Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have supported the revolution of the Syrian people and shown solidarity throughout years of tragedy,” the rebel official said.

In a sign of the embarrassment the crisis is causing, several rebel groups approached by AFP refused to comment, saying it was a “sensitive” issue.

But Sayigh said the latest flare-up in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will have a limited impact on the Syrian conflict.

“It probably won’t have a major financial impact, nor a military one since the US and Turkey have stepped up their support for factions that previously were close to Qatar or to Saudi Arabia,” Sayigh said.

Riyadh “reduced its funding sharply starting” from the summer of 2015 “after it launched its intervention in Yemen” earlier in the year, he said.

Six years into the war, Syria’s fractured rebellion controls just around 10 percent of the war-torn country, with backing from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and the United States.

Pro-Doha rebels including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group are present in the north of the country.

In Eastern Ghouta, pro-Doha opposition groups exist alongside the pro-Riyadh Jaish al-Islam rebel alliance.

Rebels in the south, meanwhile, are trained by Amman and Washington.

Another influential player is Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, which now leads the Tahrir al-Sham group and which some analysts and Syrian factions say has links with Qatar, although Doha has denied this.

– Tensions in Eastern Ghouta? –

Qatar led most mediation efforts to obtain the release of hostages held by the group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.

In Eastern Ghouta, even before the Gulf crisis, factions supported by Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other had already clashed, killing hundreds of fighters.

Raphael Lefevre, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said the latest Saudi-Qatari crisis could well spark further tensions between rival groups in the rebel enclave.

In 2013 and 2014, “Qatar and Saudi Arabia competed for influence within exiled opposition bodies, each by supporting different factions and leaders, something which largely contributed to paralysing and fragmenting the Syrian opposition,” he said.

But the consequences of the latest spat “could be much bloodier, especially as the two countries support rival rebel factions in areas already marked by a great degree of opposition infighting and regime violence such as the Eastern Ghouta”, Lefevre said.

Syria expert Thomas Pierret however said “local dynamics rather than external patrons determine alliances” in Eastern Ghouta.

He said Ahrar al-Sham risked “suffering financially from a reorientation of Qatari politics”, even if it continues to enjoy support from Turkey, which has intervened as a mediator in the Gulf dispute.

Syria’s exiled political opposition is also fractured. The High Negotiations Committee is based in Riyadh, while the National Coalition work out of Istanbul.

by Sammy Ketz



U.S. Strikes Against Pro-Syrian Government Forces in Self-Defense: Mattis

June 13, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that recent strikes against pro-Syrian government forces in the past few weeks had been in self-defense and the United States would take all measures to protect its forces in Syria.

Last week the United States shot down a pro-Syrian government drone that fired toward U.S.-led coalition forces in Syria, but “hit dirt” and caused no injuries. On the same day, the U.S. hit two pro-Syrian government pick up trucks near the southern town of At Tanf.

Russia said on Saturday it had told the United States it was unacceptable for Washington to strike pro-government forces in Syria.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

When IS group reign ends, who will rule Syria’s Raqa?

June 8, 2017


© AFP / by Rana Moussaoui with Ayhem Al-Mohammad in Hasakeh | A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) looks at smoke rising from the al-Meshleb neighbourhood of Raqa as they try to advance further into the Islamic State (IS) group’s Syrian bastion, on June 7, 2017


The battle by US-backed forces to oust the Islamic State group from its Syrian bastion of Raqa will solve one problem but create another: who will then govern the city?

The Syrian Democratic Forces Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by Washington is leading the fight for majority-Arab Raqa.

But the strategic city is also coveted by Bashar al-Assad’s government and its northern rival, Turkey.

– Who lives in Raqa? –

Located 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border with Turkey, Raqa is believed to be home to some 300,000 residents, including about 80,000 who have fled there from other parts of the country since Syria’s civil war began.

Most of its pre-war population were Arabs, but about 20 percent were Kurds, “concentrated in slums in the city’s north”, according to French geography expert Fabrice Balanche.

But in 2013, two years into Syria’s conflict, rebels and fighters from an Al-Qaeda affiliate seized Raqa. A year later, it fell into the hands of IS and most minority residents fled.

At the time, Syria’s Kurds were setting up “autonomous administrations” in territory abandoned by government forces while fighting IS jihadists in the north and northeast.

“Clashes with the Kurds were multiplying, and IS began suspecting that the Kurdish minority in Raqa was some kind of fifth column,” Balanche said.

With the departure of Kurds and Armenian and Syriac Christians, “the population of Raqa is today 99 percent Arab Sunni”, Balanche said.

– Who will rule Raqa? –

In mid-April, the SDF announced the creation of a “civilian council” that would be in charge of running Raqa once IS was defeated there.

The council would comprise people originally from Raqa province.

“The council will be in charge of several files, including judicial affairs, healthcare, education, women’s and youth affairs, and other public services including security,” said Omar Alloush, the council’s communication head.

“We have not yet discussed whether Raqa will join the (Kurdish) federal system. This will be decided by the residents after liberation,” Alloush told AFP.

But the SDF’s hand in creating the council has not reassured adversaries of the Kurds — including Arab rebel groups and their ally Turkey.

Formed in 2015, the SDF is backed by US-led coalition warplanes and special forces advisers.

The coalition is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US recently decided to arm directly for the first time.

That infuriated Turkey, which considers the YPG a “terrorist” group because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously insisted that Ankara take part in the Raqa offensive, on the condition that the Kurds were excluded.

“The US has asked Erdogan to be patient, and to wait for the city to be taken by the Kurds,” said Balanche.

Syria’s government has taken an ambiguous position, concerned about the increasing territory held by US-backed forces, but also recently describing the SDF’s fight against IS as “legitimate”.

– Could ethnic conflict erupt? –

In Raqa, Balanche said, Kurdish forces are hoping for a repeat of events in Manbij, once a major IS bastion in Aleppo province.

After the SDF overran Manbij in August 2016, it handed over the Arab-majority town to a civilian council.

Adversaries have complained that the council is simply a fig leaf for SDF control, but Manbij’s Kurdish minority continues to support it.

“This is not the case in Raqa,” said Balanche. “The tribes in Raqa are not ready to accept Kurdish domination.”

Faysal al-Sibat, a Syrian member of parliament and a leading member of Raqa tribe Al-Welda, said the SDF fighters “do not have popular support”.

“The tribes in Raqa do not recognise this civilian council. And tribal members that are in the council are there in an individual capacity,” he told AFP.

– What about the regime? –

Syria’s government has long insisted that its forces would lead the fight to recapture Raqa.

But on the ground, “Syria’s army doesn’t want to lose any soldiers to take Raqa if the SDF can do it themselves”, Balanche said.

Syrian soldiers seized the key town of Maskana from IS on June 4, and are now on the boundary between Aleppo and Raqa provinces.

“The army is positioning itself nearby, waiting for the inevitable problems between Kurds and Arabs — and among Arabs themselves — so that it can play the role of a stabiliser,” Balanche told AFP.

Government authorities would prefer to “enter the city under a deal” instead of by force, he said.

But SDF spokesman Talal Sello did not rule out the possibility of the Syrian army joining the offensive itself.

“The participation of the Syrian army in the battle depends on agreements between the (Washington-led) coalition and the Russians,” Sello told AFP.

by Rana Moussaoui with Ayhem Al-Mohammad in Hasakeh

US-backed forces launch assault on IS stronghold Raqqa

June 6, 2017

AFP and Reuters

© Delil Souleilman, AFP | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Tabqa, about 55km west of Raqqa, on May 18, 2017

atest update : 2017-06-06

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Tuesday it had begun a battle to capture Raqqa, Islamic State Group’s de facto capital in Syria, launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city.

In a phone interview with Reuters from Syria, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the operation started on Monday and the fighting would be “fierce because Daesh (the Islamic State Group) will die to defend their so-called capital”.

The Islamic State Group captured the city from rebel groups in 2014 and has used it as an operations base to plan attacks in the West. The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on the Islamic State Group’s self-declared “caliphate” with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced into retreat across much of Syria.

“The coalition has a big role in the success of the operations. In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Silo said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, earlier said the SDF attacked the eastern edge of Raqqa and a military base on the northern outskirts of the city on Tuesday.

The Kurdish YPG, part of the SDF, told Reuters on Saturday that the assault on Raqqa was expected to start in a few days.

“It started today at dawn,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said. “They have reached the city but they have not entered any of its buildings.”

The attack on the al-Mashlab district and on the Division 17 base around 1km to the north of the city centre followed heavy overnight air strikes, the Observatory said.

The SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa since November in an offensive backed by the US-led coalition that is also fighting the Islamic State Group in Iraq.

The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State Group fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defences against the anticipated assault. The city is about 90km from the border with Turkey.

The United States said on Tuesday it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa, part of a plan that has angered NATO-ally Turkey, which is worried by growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said that Ankara will retaliate immediately if the operation to capture Raqqa presents a threat to the country.

Speaking to deputies from the ruling AK Party on Tuesday, Yildirim said Turkey was taking the necessary measures on the issue.

Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia within the SDF as a terrorist group aligned with militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.


Raqqa: Syrian Kurdish-led forces launch offensive on IS ‘capital’

June 6, 2017

BBC News

File photo showing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters holding up their weapons north of Raqqa, Syria (3 February 2017)
Syrian Democratic Forces fighters have been gradually encircling Raqqa since late last year. Reuters photo

A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has launched an offensive to capture the jihadist group Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

Spokesmen for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the assault began on Monday, with forces advancing on several fronts.

A monitoring group reported clashes in the east of Raqqa and at a military base on the northern outskirts.

The US-led coalition was supporting the assault with air strikes, it said.

The SDF, which is says it is not aligned with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad or the rebel forces seeking to overthrow him, has driven IS from about 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) of northern Syria over the past year.

IS seized Raqqa in early 2014, months after it became the first Syrian provincial capital to fall to the rebels in the six-year civil war.

The jihadist group established the city as the de facto capital of its “caliphate” and implemented a strict interpretation of Islamic law there.

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (31 May 2017)

Tillerson, In Australia, Critical of China on South China Sea — “Failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea.” — “We cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems.”

June 5, 2017


© AFP / by Thomas WATKINS | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop leave at the end of a press conference in Sydney on June 5, 2017


China and other nations must strengthen efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday, while also calling out Beijing over its South China Sea activities.

America’s top diplomat, speaking after talks in Sydney, also gave a brief response to the unfolding crisis in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have all announced they are severing ties with gas-rich Qatar.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has spent recent weeks trying to reassure allies it can maintain a tough line against China’s “militarisation” of the South China Sea while at the same time seeking help from Beijing.

President Donald Trump — who frequently denounced China on the campaign trail — has turned to Beijing to help rein in ally North Korea’s weapons programme, prompting concern among Asian allies that America might go easy on the South China Sea territorial dispute.

“We desire productive relationships,” Tillerson said after annual discussions with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in Sydney.

“But we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarising islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea.”

He said China and other regional partners should “step up” efforts to help solve the North Korea situation, because it presents a threat to the “entire world.”

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

It has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

Tillerson reiterated US and Australian commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to “ensure unimpeded flow of lawful commerce in a rules-based order”.

But reporters asked Tillerson if America was applying a double standard in telling countries to adhere to the international order while simultaneously pulling out of a trans-Pacific trade deal and the Paris climate accords — moves that prompted even longstanding allies to question whether America was retreating into isolationism.

“That’s why we’re here, that’s why we travel to the region, that?s why we engage with our counterparts,” Tillerson said, standing alongside Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, Bishop and Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne.

We “travel to the region to meet with our counterparts and talk about all the issues that are important to them and hear from them concerns about where the (Trump) administration is positioned”.

– ‘Remain united’ –

Addressing the situation in the Gulf, Tillerson called on countries there to stay united and work out their differences.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” he said.

“If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) remain united.”

Riyadh cut diplomatic relations and closed borders with its neighbour Qatar to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Tillerson and Mattis both said they did not anticipate any impact on efforts by a US-led coalition to battle the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The coalition currently conducts much of its operational planning and coordination from Al-Udeid air base in Qatar.

“I am confident there will be no implications coming out of this diplomatic situation at all, and I say that based on the commitment that each of these nations… have made to this fight,” Mattis said.

The US defense secretary blasted Iran for its “various destabilising efforts” in the region, referring to Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran’s involvement in the Yemen war.

by Thomas WATKINS

Report: US-backed Syria squads approach IS-held Raqqa

June 3, 2017

A Kurdish-led coalition is advancing toward the IS group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, according to a group monitoring Syria’s civil war. US-backed forces are reportedly now just 2 kilometers from the city in some areas.

Syrien Region Rakka SDF Kämpfer (Reuters/R. Said)

US-backed forces continue to advance on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday,

According to the Observatory, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurds and Arabs, have captured the key northeastern town of Mansoura, some 26 km (16 miles) southwest of Raqqa.

The SDF report that they are in control of 90 percent of the town, which lies halfway between Raqqa andthe former IS bastion of Tabqa.

The SDF have also taken the nearby village of Heneida and the Baath Dam to the northwest of Raqqa, the Observatory reports, thus getting as close to within 2 kilometers to the east of the IS stronghold and 3 kilometers to the north.

Karte Syrien al-Bab ENG

Long campaign

Local activists said the newly gained territory means that the SDF now have a clear run on Raqqa, with no more major urban communities on the way.

The Observatory gathers its information from a network of activists on the ground in the war-ravaged country.

The SDF, which receives weapons and air and ground support from the US in its campaign to defeat IS in Syria, started its offensive to capture Raqqa in November. The city has been under the control of the group since 2014.

In March, an airstrike attack believed to have been carried out by the US-led anti-IS coalition hit a school in Mansoura where displaced people had taken shelter, killing at least 33.

Human rights organizations have warned of the dangers posed by launching strikes in urban areas.

Read: Civilian casualties surge as anti-‘Islamic State’ coalition prepares to capture Raqqa

tj/mkg (dpa, AP)


US-Backed Syrian Fighters Advancing Toward IS-Held Raqqa

June 3, 2017

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian forces say they are close to capturing an Islamic State-held town that lies halfway between the former IS-stronghold of Tabqa and its de facto capital, Raqqa, in northern Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say they are in control of 90 percent of the town of Mansoura, approximately 26 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Raqqa.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the SDF has been engaged in fierce fighting with IS militants along the southern bank of the Euphrates River, around Mansoura. The river leads to Raqqa.

The U.S. has backed the SDF with weapons, airpower, and ground support in its campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria. Its target for now is Raqqa, which has been held by the militants since 2014.

Russia Views Iran, Syria as Strategic Partners in Middle East

May 24, 2017
Dr. Papadopoulos: Russia Views Iran, Syria as Strategic Partners in Middle East
Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos
Fars News Agency
No automatic alt text available.
TEHRAN (FNA)- It is now more than six years that the Syrian government is engaged in a full-fledged war against terrorism. Syria has been faced with international terror squads programed to unite and topple the country’s government. Apart from Iran and Russia, the Syrian government has never been supported by other countries, and it has rather been confronted in terms of economics, politics and military support.

“Russia and Syria are not just allies – they are friends, too.  Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions… Syria’s security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria”, said Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

“To counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security… Syria is Russia’s historic friend – friends are there for each other.  And, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state” he added.

Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher and Editor of Politics First (a non-partisan publication for the UK Parliament) holds a PhD in Russian history and specializes in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.

FNA talked to Dr. Papadopoulos about Russia’s intention to support Syria in general, and ways in which the Syrian government has been supported by Russians in particular.

Below is the full text of the interview.

Q: How do you assess the historical ties between Russia and Syria in the contemporary history, specially since the Cold War era? What landmark events should be brought up to study the relations between these two countries in its entirety?

A: Russia and Syria are not just allies – they are friends, too.  Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions.  And the Russian and Syrian peoples have benefited tremendously from those relations, which have been in existence for over half a century.  Syria’s security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria; for example, during the June War of 1967, the October War of 1973 and the conflict in Syria today.  In return, Syria is Russia’s eyes and ears in the Middle East.  Many Russians and Syrians regard each other as brothers – a sentiment that has gained even more popularity as a result of how, today, the Syrian and Russian militaries are on the frontline fighting extremism and terrorism, specifically Wahhabism and Salafism.

Q: Syria has been at war with foreign-backed terrorists for around six years now, while militants are losing ground in every front now. Where and at what stages, do you think, Russia’s assistance has brought Syria a step closer to victory? 

A: The turning-point in the Syrian conflict was on 30 September 2015 when Russia militarily intervened in the fighting, at the request of the Syrian Government, which is the only legitimate authority in Syria, in accordance with international law.  Up until that date, the Syrian military, which reflects the multi-cultural Syrian state in terms of its personnel (contrast this with how the terrorist opposition groups are sectarian, comprised of 99 per cent Sunnis), has been fighting on approximately 300 fronts and against approximately 80 different nationalities of terrorists – not to mention the military and financial support that these terrorists were and are continuing to receive from the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The courage and tenacity demonstrated by Syrian servicemen and servicewomen has been extraordinary, and their achievements will gain a special place in history.  History will show that those men and women gave it their all in order to contain and defeat one of the most awful cancers in the history of mankind: Extremism.

The Syrian military had been battling alone, against the odds, for four years, prior to Russian intervention.  The Syrian soldier needed help from his Russian counterpart, and, like true brothers do, the Russian soldier came to his aid.

Because of Russian intervention in Syria’s fight with Takfirism, the Syrian military will prevail.  It is not a matter of if but when victory will come for the Syrian Armed Forces.

Q: Why does Russia see it on itself to stand up for Bashar Al-Assad’s government? What objectives could be perceived for Russia’s present role in Syria?

A: Firstly, Russia came to the aid of a legitimate government and one that is in trouble in its fight with extremism and terrorism.  Secondly, on humanitarian grounds, namely to protect the Syrian people from the barbarism that is Wahhabism and Salafism.  Thirdly, to counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security.  Fourthly, Syria is Russia’s historic friend – friends are there for each other.  And finally, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state; no different to how the US would militarily defend its position in Saudi Arabia or Israel, if it was required to do so.

Q: Considering the recent Washington-Moscow confrontational policies over a range of issues, specially the war in Syria, do you see a shift in Russia’s foreign policy towards the United States’ allies in the Middle-East, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia?

A: No.  Israel and Saudi Arabia are staunch allies and friends to the US – and nothing can undo this well-known reality.  Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is the number one exporter of religious extremism (Wahhabism) and terrorism to the world, which continues to affect Russian security, especially in the North Caucasus.  And as for Israel, the Israelis historically pose a deadly threat to Russia’s friend and ally Syria, and Israel has been assisting armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in their fight with the Syrian army, something that Moscow is well aware of.

For the Kremlin, Syria and Iran are its strategic partners in the Middle East.  Damascus and Tehran are to Moscow what Tel Aviv and Riyadh are to Washington.

Q: Is the Syrian crisis pushing the ties between Russia and the US into a state similar to the cold war decades ago? With the new US administration, how likely is it to witness a 21st century version of the cold war?

A: The crisis in Ukraine is what propelled relations between Russia and the US to such a low level.  However, the fighting in Syria has made relations between the two superpowers even worse.  The state of relations between Moscow and Washington today are comparable to how they were before Detente in the 1970s and during the early 1980s.  And with the Trump administration determined to “Make America Great Again” by crushing or curtailing the power of countries which follow independent foreign policies (Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea, to name but a few), it is extremely difficult to see how Russia-US relations can improve. President Putin cannot and will not (and rightly so) bow down to American diktats, while President Trump is determined to both fulfil his own personal megalomaniac ambitions and pursue America’s insatiable lust for ever more wealth and power in the world.