Syria's Assad Thanks Russia's Putin for Countering West in 10-Year War

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has thanked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for supporting Damascus in its decade-long war against rebels and jihadis despite economic and political isolation by the West.

During a phone call Monday, the Syrian leader discussed with the Russian president "bilateral relations between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation, especially on the economic and commercial levels, in addition to joint cooperation in facing the coronavirus pandemic, and Russia's determination to supply additional vaccines to help the Syrian people face this pandemic," according to a readout published by Assad's office.

Syria has sought vaccine support from Russia, China and the United Nations' COVAX global vaccination initiative as the country's overlapping crises are compounded by COVID-19. Syria remains subject to intensive sanctions by the United States and European allies who have accused Assad of committing human rights abuses throughout the conflict, but Moscow has continually defended Damascus.

Assad, during his call with Putin, "expressed his thanks for the humanitarian aid provided by Russia to the Syrian people to help them overcome the effects of the unjust blockade imposed on them."

The Syrian head of state also discussed a number of other issues, such as ongoing efforts related to the establishment of a Syrian Constitutional Committee "and the Western pressure exerted on it to divert it from its course."

He touched upon other issues related to Russia's foreign affairs, and "expressed Syria's support for Russia in the face of escalation attempts by Western countries, especially with regard to the situation in Ukraine," where the U.S. and European allies recently raised the alarm amid reports that Russia was deploying tens of thousands of troops along the sensitive conflict-ridden border between the two countries.

Such accusations "target the role of Russia and its policies, which are based on the necessity of respect and rule of international law in order to achieve stability in the world," Assad said.

russia, vladimir, putin, syria, bashar, assad
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on November 9, 2020. Russia intervened in 2015 to support Assad in a civil war against rebels and jihadis that rose up against his rule in 2011. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images

The Kremlin also published an account of the call, in which it said the two men held "an in-depth discussion on the topical issues on the bilateral agenda, above all the prospects for further development of trade, economic and cultural ties, as well as cooperation in countering the coronavirus infection, including supplies of Russian vaccines."

The Russian side took note of Assad's appreciation, saying he "expressed his deep gratitude to Russia for the comprehensive aid and support being provided to the Syrian people." The report referenced the Syrian Constitutional Committee as well, along with next month's upcoming election, the first-ever in which a woman has reportedly applied.

The election is only the second in the country's history to feature other candidates, as well as the second in which other candidates are featured. Like his father, who ruled from 1971 until his death in 2000, Assad has never won with less than 90% of the vote, with most contests seeing the leader acquire beyond 99% of the ballots in elections frequently criticized by Western observers as neither free nor fair.

Assad's rule saw its first major challenge during the Arab Spring movement that spurred mass protests across the region. As clashes between demonstrators and security forces devolved into civil war, the U.S. and a number of its regional allies and partners began to aid the insurgency against the government, which eventually received support from Iran and Russia, especially as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) began to spread throughout the nation.

The Syrian government has since restored control over the majority of the country, with about a third of the nation in the hands of a mostly Kurdish U.S.-backed militia called the Syrian Democratic Forces that also fought ISIS. Opposition factions continue to hold pockets of territory across the border with Turkey, the last major foreign backer of rebel groups.

Ten years after the war in Syria broke out, violence continues between various factions in spite of efforts by Russia, Iran and Turkey to secure a viable peace process. Last month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed regret at a lack of progress made toward the Syrian Constitutional Committee project.

The path is one of many tried in a bid to realize a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria in line with U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, first adopted in December 2015. The resolution continues to be backed by major powers involved in the war, including the U.S.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek in February that the U.S. "is committed to a political settlement in line with UNSCR 2254 to end the conflict in Syria, in close consultation with our allies, partners, and the U.N."

At the same time, the spokesperson said President Joe Biden's administration "would use the tools at our disposal, including economic pressure, to push for meaningful reform and accountability for the Assad regime."

Washington also remains involved in the fight against ISIS.

"The United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS continue to work with our increasingly capable local partners to maintain constant pressure on ISIS remnants in Syria to ensure ISIS's lasting defeat," the spokesperson said.

russia, military, syria, patrol, turkey
Russian troops are pictured in a joint convoy with Turkish troops (unseen) patrolling in oil fields near the town of Al-Qahtaniyah, in Syria's northeastern Al-Hasakah province close to the Turkish border, on February 4. Russia has called on the U.S. to lift sanctions and withdraw troops from Syria. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to targeting ISIS, the Biden has administration has also conducted strikes on targets suspected of being tied to Iran. The president ordered strikes in February against what the Pentagon called Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria in retaliation for a rocket attack in which a U.S. contractor died.

In comments sent to Newsweek last month, Syria's permanent mission to the United Nations warned such strikes "will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region and threaten peace and security."

Such a move, the mission argued, "sends a negative signal of the new administration's policies and its persistent endeavor to implement the law of force instead of the force of law in continuation of the previous US administrations' approach in dealing with the regional and international crises in the world."

Last month, Moscow's embassy in Washington said it left the door open for "cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in Syria," but only "in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, countering terrorism and pushing forward political process with a common goal to achieve peace."

The embassy also called for the U.S. to recalibrate its stance.

"We sincerely hope that the new administration will try to rethink previous strategies on Syria," the embassy told Newsweek at the time. "It is important to cease the cruel sanction campaign against the Syrian people and put an end to illegal military presence in the Arab Republic."

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