An illegal occupation by Western troops is hampering the consolidation of Syria despite it being mostly freed from terrorists, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said during a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad.
The surprise exchange took place at the Kremlin on Monday, but the visit was only publicly revealed on Tuesday morning. It was the Syrian leader’s first foreign trip since 2019, when he travelled to Iran.
Putin told Assad that the joint efforts of their armed forces have dealt a crippling blow to terrorists, allowing Damascus to regain control over more than 90% of its territory. However, some obstacles remain before a a“return to normal life” is possible in the country, he added. Syria has been fighting international terrorism since 2011, with the turnaround in the conflict coming after the deployment of Russian forces in the country at the request of Damascus in 2015.
The main problem, in my opinion, is that foreign armed forces are present in certain areas of the country without any UN mandate, without your authorization, which clearly contradicts international law, and prevents you from making a maximum effort to consolidate the country and move along the path of its restoration at a rate that would be possible if the entire territory was controlled by the legitimate government.
Some 900 American troops reportedly remain in northern Syria, assisting Kurdish-led rebel forces.
Another issue is the remaining “hotbeds of resistance from terrorists who not only control part of the territory, but also continue to terrorize civilians,” Putin added.
The Russian and Syrian armies not only achieved impressive results in combating terrorism, but also “facilitated the return of refugees who were forced to leave their homes, to leave their homeland,” Assad said.
“International terrorism knows no borders, and spreads like an infection throughout the world, thus our armies have made a huge contribution to protecting all mankind from this evil,” the Syrian president added.
Putin congratulated Assad on his recent re-election, seeing it as a clear sign that the Syrian people “trust” him to lead the country back to peaceful life. He voiced hopes that Assad would eventually unite all political opponents under a national reconciliation process.
Assad acknowledged the necessity of mending political dialogue within Syria, but voiced regret over the fact that this work had been basically “stalled for the last three years.” According to the Syrian leader, certain countries have a “destructive influence” on the potential for political process in the country.
He also reminded Putin of the sanctions imposed on the war-torn country by the US, EU and some Arab states, blasting those restrictions as “anti-human” and “illegal.”
He thanked Moscow for its military and diplomatic support during the conflict, especially singling out the efforts of the Russian Foreign Ministry to defend Syria’s right to decide its own fate and resist attempts by some countries to “use terrorism to achieve their goals.”
Another issue on the agenda was the Covid-19 pandemic. Putin said Russia and Syria were “were working together on solving the main problem currently faced by humanity.” Deliveries of the Russian-designed Sputnik V and Sputnik Lite Covid-19 vaccines to Syria have already started, he pointed out, with Assad saying he was grateful for those supplies and other humanitarian aid provided by Moscow to Damascus.