(Photo Credit: AP)
During an interview with RIA Novosti news agency on 16 March, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad suggested that Russian military presence in Syria should become permanent and said he would welcome any proposals from the Kremlin to set up new military bases and boost troop numbers.
He made the comments after holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The presence of military bases should not be linked to the issue of terrorism. Combating terrorism is an existing matter, but it will be temporary, and the Russian military presence in any country cannot be built on something temporary,” Assad said.
He also highlighted that Russia’s presence in Syria is a matter of “international balance … of the balance of power in the world as a country located on the Mediterranean Sea.”
“[Global superpowers] should work outside of [their territories] through their allies in the world or through military bases … We believe that if Russia has the desire to expand the bases or increase their number, then this is a technical or logistical issue. If there is such a desire, then we believe that the expansion of the Russian presence in Syria is good,” Assad added.
He also stressed that Damascus and Moscow have a common view on the topic in both political and military terms but that announcements about defense cooperation are rarely made due to the inherent secrecy of military issues.
The close ties between Syria and Russia date back to the Soviet era. However, their military cooperation deepened significantly in 2015 when Assad requested military assistance from the Kremlin to push back against ISIS and other extremist groups let loose by the US and its allies.
Alongside the Hmeimim air base, from which the Russian and Syrian air forces launch joint patrols and airstrikes, Moscow also controls the Tartus naval facility, which in the future is expected to be able to host up to eleven Russian warships, including nuclear vessels.
In January, the Russian defense ministry revealed that Al-Jarrah military air base in Syria’s north had been restored and would be used by the allied armies. The base, located east of Aleppo, was recaptured from the hands of ISIS in 2017.
During his interview with RIA Novosti, Assad commented on the possibility of Syria hosting hypersonic missiles in Russian military bases.
“Of course, if you are going to build bases, the goal is not that the bases be weak from a military point of view. The bases are supposed to be strong in order to have a deterrent or balancing effect, to be armed with the best weapons,” the Syrian president said, adding, “It is the natural and logical thing, whether it is hypersonic missiles or any other more advanced weapons.”
Assad also reaffirmed his full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and Syria’s recognition of the Donbas republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“I say that these are Russian territories, and even if the war had not happened, these are historically Russian territories,” he told the Russian news agency, adding that Russia is fighting “neo-Nazis and old Nazis” in Ukraine.
The Syrian leader also took aim at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying: “I didn’t know anything about him. We started listening to him as a clown. His quotes are like clowning – we liked it in general, the way he behaves like a comedian, even in politics. Sometimes we need such clowns to defuse the situation, to make us laugh a little.”