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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Assad offers Putin Syria’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad talk during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 15.

By Valerie Hopkins and Ivan Nechepurenko

President Bashar Assad of Syria again voiced his full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine on Wednesday during a meeting in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, as the leaders of the two internationally isolated countries sought to strengthen their ties.

It was Assad’s first trip to Moscow since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, and it also came on the 12th anniversary of Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

Assad said he wanted to “repeat the Syrian position in support of this special operation against neo-Nazis and old Nazis,” he said in remarks carried by the Russian news agency, Interfax, using the Kremlin’s preferred phrasing about the war and its false premise: that Russian forces are fighting Ukrainian Nazis.

Before the meeting, the Kremlin said the agenda would include bilateral relations and the prospects for a peace settlement and a reconstruction program in Syria, which has been ravaged by an earthquake last month and brutal civil war that has raged for more than a decade.

The presence of both country’s finance ministers and a Russian minister for construction indicated the possibility of a loan or a financial instrument for Syria’s reconstruction, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Assad said he hoped the meeting would “result in tangible economic cooperation,” although he gave no specifics.

Putin spoke of Russia’s support following the earthquake last month that killed at least 7,000 people in Syria. He also said that Moscow and Syria are “in constant contact” and noted the role Russian troops have been playing in Syria since the Kremlin intervened in 2015 to prop up Assad.

“Significant results in countering international terrorism were achieved in Syria thanks to our joint efforts and the decisive contribution of the Russian armed forces,” Putin said at the start of the meeting.

When the Russian military intervened in Syria in 2015, its air force conducted dozens of airstrikes a day against opposition forces and Islamic State group militants. Mercenaries from the Wagner private military company, which are currently engaged in some of the most brutal fighting against Ukraine’s troops, were also actively involved in the conflict.

Russia’s involvement, alongside Iran, was a game changer in the war, leaving Syria indebted to the Kremlin. Moscow has also helped Assad begin to repair relations with other countries in the region whose leaders had once called for his ouster.

Russia’s increased influence in the Middle East helped it build stronger relations with some of the key players in the region, including Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Syria is really Moscow’s claim to fame in the region now, in terms of being as productive relationship with major powers,” said Gabuev. Russian-Syrian ties make Israel tread carefully when it comes to Russia, and have a profound effect on Russia’s growing ties to Iran as well.

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