Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has travelled to the Russian city Sochi for meetings with President Vladimir Putin.
During public statements, Putin congratulated President al-Assad on a victory against terrorism, which in the context of securing Syria’s peace and unity is almost complete. He stated that while terrorism is an international issue that continues to be a matter of urgency, “..But as far as our joint fight against terrorists in Syria is concerned, this military operation is really coming to an end”.
Vladimir Putin also praised the Astana peace talks as paying the way for greater de-escalation of the conflict which it self will lead to a final political settlement.
Bashar al-Assad stated that he welcomes dialogue with any parties committed to the peace and integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and praised the positive role that Russia has played in this respect.
The Syrian President further stated,
“Over this period, great success has been achieved, both directly on the battlefield and in political terms. Many areas of Syria have been liberated from terrorists, and Syrians who were forced to leave them earlier could return to these areas”.
— Президент России (@KremlinRussia) November 21, 2017
“President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, friends,
Welcome to Sochi. First, let me congratulate you on Syria’s results in combating terrorist groups as well as on the fact that the Syrian people, despite a very difficult ordeal, are gradually moving towards the final and inevitable defeat of the terrorists.
Mr President, as you know, I will meet with my colleagues – the presidents of Turkey and Iran – here in Sochi the day after tomorrow. We have agreed to hold additional consultations with you during our meeting. Of course, the main subject on the agenda is a peaceful and lasting political settlement in Syria after the routing of the terrorists.
As you know, in addition to the partners I have mentioned we are also working closely together with other countries, such as Iraq, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We maintain constant contact with these partners.
I would like to talk with you about the basic principles of the political process and the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, the idea of which you have supported. I would like to hear your opinions on the current situation and development prospects and your views on the political process, which should ultimately be implemented under the UN auspices. We also hope that the UN will join the [political] process at its final stage.
I am glad to see you. Welcome to Russia.
President of Syria Bashar al-Assad (retranslated): Thank you very much, Mr President.
I am very glad to have this opportunity to meet with you two years and several weeks after Russia launched a very successful operation.
Over this period, we have achieved major success both on the battlefield and on the political track. Many regions in Syria have been liberated from the terrorists, and the Syrians who had to flee from these regions can now return there.
It should be acknowledged that the operation brought progress to the political settlement in Syria. And the process which was started and which Russia promoted with various efforts continues, above all, based on respect for the UN Charter, the state’s sovereignty and independence. This stance has been defended at various international platforms, including the talks in Astana. The same goes for the plans to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in a few days. Today we have an excellent opportunity to discuss both the upcoming conference and the upcoming summit, and to coordinate our views on the next steps.
First, I would like to take an opportunity and pass congratulations and gratitude from the Syrian people to you, Mr President, for our joint success in defending Syria’s territorial integrity and independence. We would like to extend our gratitude to those institutions of the Russian state that provided assistance – primarily, the Russian Defence Ministry that has supported us throughout this operation. Also I would like to pass our gratitude to the Russian people who remain a friendly nation to us. They have supported us all along.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the Astana talks. I also think they were quite a success. Thanks to the Astana process we managed to create de-escalation zones, which allowed us to start the first real and in-depth dialogue with the opposition.
Based on the outcome of this meeting, I will consult further with the leaders of the countries I just mentioned. A conversation with the Emir of Qatar is scheduled for today. Tomorrow, I am speaking with US President Donald Trump. After that, I am speaking with the leaders of the countries in the region.
As you know, the so-called Riyadh opposition group will hold a meeting in Riyadh on November 22–23. Our representative, Mr Lavrentyev, will attend the opening and closing of this meeting, as well as a news conference, as a special presidential envoy. Therefore, I believe that our meeting today is a very good opportunity to coordinate our approaches on all settlement issues. I am glad that we can do this.
Bashar al-Assad: At this stage, and especially after our victories over the terrorists, we are interested in promoting the political process. We believe that the political situation that has developed in the regions offers an opportunity for progress in the political process. We hope Russia will support us by ensuring the external players’ non-interference in the political process, so that they will only support the process waged by the Syrians themselves.
We do not want to look back. We will accept and talk with anyone who is really interested in a political settlement.
Vladimir Putin: Very good. You have mentioned the completion of the military operation. I believe that terrorism is a global problem and the fight against it is, of course, far from over. As for our joint efforts against the terrorists in Syria, this military operation is nearing completion indeed.
I believe that the main task now is to launch the political process. I am glad that you are ready to work with anyone who wants peace and conflict resolution.
Meeting with senior officials of the Defence Ministry and the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces
Vladimir Putin: I have asked the President of Syria to attend our meeting.
I want him to see those who have played the key role in saving Syria.
Of course, Mr Assad knows some of you personally. He told me at our talks today that the Russian Army has saved Syria as a state. Much has been done to stabilise the situation in Syria. I hope that we will close the chapter on the fight against terrorism in Syria, although some seats of tension will remain or will flare up again.
There are more than enough problems with terrorism in the world, including in the Middle East and Syria. But our main mission is almost accomplished, and I hope we will be able to say that we have accomplished it soon.
We have held very substantial talks with the President of Syria today on all aspects related to normalisation, including subsequent steps on the political track. As you know, we will hold a trilateral meeting here in Sochi. However, I would like to say that conditions for a political process could not have been created without the armed forces, without your efforts and the efforts and heroism of your subordinates. This goal has been achieved thanks to the Russian Armed Forces and our Syrian friends on the battlefield. Thank you for this.
Bashar al-Assad (retranslated): President of Russia Vladimir Putin and I have just held talks. I have conveyed to him, and on his behalf to the Russian people, our gratitude for Russia’s efforts to save our country.
I would like to highlight the contribution of the Russian Armed Forces and the sacrifices they have made to achieve this goal. I was very glad to learn that you, those of you who were directly involved in the operation [in Syria] and who commanded the activities of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria will be present here today.
The operation barely started when I met with President Putin in Moscow two years ago. In the two years since then we can see the success that has been achieved thanks to cooperation between the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Army. Nobody can deny this success in the fight against terrorism now. Thanks to your actions, as well as the actions of the Syrian Army and our allies, many Syrians have returned home.
Speaking on behalf of the Syrian people, I would like to express our gratitude for what you have accomplished. We will never forget this. Also, I would like to thank personally President Vladimir Putin, [Defence Minister] Sergei Shoigu and [Chief of the General Staff] Valery Gerasimov for their direct involvement in this operation.
Thank you very much”.
The meeting is significant in the following ways:
1. A clear message to the geo-political opponents of President al-Assad and the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party
The United States, various EU states, Saudi Arabia and Israel continue to offer public statements about wanting President al-Assad removed from power. Russia has always publicly stated that all issues determining Syria’s leadership are internal matters to be decided by the Syrian people.
In reality, today’s meeting is public acknowledgement that Moscow’s understanding of Syria runs far deeper than anodyne statements that Russian diplomats often give in international fora. Russia has demonstrated a clear understanding that President al-Assad is a unifying figure among patriotic, anti-extremist, anti-sectarian Syrians and that it is his leadership along with his colleagues in the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, who are best equipped to lead a final peace process with help from allies like Russia.
The meeting also acknowledges that President al-Assad is a genuine partner of Russia and that Russia understands it shall be working with President al-Assad for the foreseeable future when it comes to Syrian issues.
This means that while the US and its allies can and likely will continue to disparage President al-Assad, that Russia and al-Assad are not going anywhere.
2. The United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are essentially powerless in respect of shaping the events in Syria
During his meeting with President al-Assad, President Putin remarked that he will shortly conduct discussions with the leadership of the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This will come in the form of phone calls, while he has met face to face with President al-Assad and will shortly conduct face-to-face meetings with both President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This serves to clearly establish the international pecking order in the Syrian peace process. Russia is the undisputed international leader and it is one which respects the sovereignty and dignity of the Syrian Arab Republic and Syrian President. In meeting with President al-Assad before his colleagues from Iran and Turkey, President Putin is clearly indicating his commitment to a Syrian lead, settlement.
By then meeting with Iran and Turkey, Putin is also indicating that after Russia, these are the countries that will have the most influence over a settlement in Syria: Iran because it has been a long-time Syrian partner in security and cooperation and Turkey, because Turkey is a country that for most of the war was on the other side, but has now embraced the Russian proposed Astana peace talks and has indicated commitments to the long-term territorial unity of Syria.
While Turkey and Syria continue to have disputes, it was always going to be necessary at some degree to work with a cooperative power from the ‘other side’. Turkey’s intensified friendships with Russia and Iran have served to make Turkey such a cooperative power, even as many suspected that a Trump led United States would be that power. As it turns out, US policy on Syria has not changed, but Turkish policy has. Turkey has therefore been rewarded with a spot at the peace table while the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are merely looking in from the outside. The US may still be able to influence events inside Syria in respect to Kurdish militants, but this too will likely be off-set by Turkey whose anti-Kurdish position in Syria puts Ankara and Damascus on the same page.
3. The US/Saudi/Israeli model of proxy wars with the goal of regime change died in Syria
In 2011, when the US ignited a proxy conflict in Syria which saw foreign fighters, foreign weapons and substantial amounts of Gulfi money flow into Syria, few people thought that in 2017, Syria would be on the verge of destroying the proxy terrorist forces and that the Syrian President and government would be stronger and more popular than ever.
This is now the reality and it is due to both Syrian resilience, strong Arabist leadership from the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party, and Russia’s commitment to help her Syrian ally win the battle.
Syria, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and other volunteers have demonstrated that the ‘regime change’ steamroller can be stopped. This legacy will continue to haunt the US and its allies for many years to come, all while providing a source of inspiration for countries who are bullied by Washington.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.