Vladimir Putin receives the embrace of Bashar al-Assad at Russia’s Hmeimim Airbase in western Syria, December 11, 2017
Syria’s Assad regime has denied reports, including from Russia’s State media and allies of President Vladimir Putin, that the Kremlin is concerned with political and economic damage from the rule of Bashar al-Assad.
A pro-Assad official, masked as “an Arab diplomatic source”, told the regime outlet al-Watan that “the campaign in Russian media is sourced and supported by those close to Turkey and Israel”.
The official insisted:
There is ongoing, near daily communication between the Russian and Syrian leadership — not only at the military level, but also on economics and health.
Russia is helping Syria face the COVID-19 pandemic, and is studying what it can do to reinvigorate the Syrian economy. Moscow still supports the Syrian state to lay down its authority over all its territory, and to eliminate terrorism.
“Four people familiar with Kremlin deliberations on the matter” said in late April that Russian President Vladimir Putin is insisting on “flexibility” by Assad in talks with Syrian groups on a political resolution.
But the regime has blocked any advance in Russia’s initiative, launched in 2018, for a new Syrian Constitution to give the appearance of power-sharing. Assad and his inner circle maintain that “sovereignty” is paramount and that the first item on the agenda must be dealing with “terrorism”.
Russian interests — including firms and businessmen close to Putin — are concerned at their failure to get a stake in the Syrian economy, amid the plutocracy around Assad and competition with Iran, another essential backer of the regime.
Russian State outlets put out concerns about corruption within the Assad family and regime. The issue has been magnified in the past 10 days by a split between Assad and his cousin, the billionaire tycoon Rami Makhlouf.
Alexander Shumilin, a former Russian diplomat and head of the State-financed Europe-Middle East Center summarized, “The Kremlin needs to get rid of the Syrian headache. The problem is with one person — Assad — and his entourage.”
The pro-Assad official told al-Watan that Russia had not “interfered” in Syria’s domestic affairs and that “its relationship with Damascus was one of friendship”.
The official also denied Russia was in discussions with any group other than the regime: “Moscow has no relationships inside Syria except with Syrian leadership.”
Russian State outlets and the Kremlin offered no comment on the official’s claims.
Last week, after international attention to the criticism of the regime in the Russian media, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Vladimir Putin is unhappy with Bashar al-Assad.