Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in western Syria, December 2017
Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad has pointed to his reliance on Russia to stay in power, saying Russian naval and air bases help counter the influence of Western foes.
Speaking with Russia’s Defense Ministry TV channel Zvezda on the fifth anniversary of Moscow’s military intervention to prevent his regime’s collapse, Assad proclaimed, “This global military balance needs Russia’s role….This needs bases….We benefit from this.”
Under an agreement with the regime after the September 2015 intervention, Russia now has indefinite control of the Hmeimim airbase and the Tartous naval facility in western Syria on the eastern Mediterranean. The regime has also given Russia additional land and coastal waters for the expansion of the bases.
Assad acknowledged that his depleted military faced a “dangerous situation” after anti-Assad forces took much of northwest and southern Syria, as well as controlling suburbs of Damascus, in 2015.
Russia’s intervention, on the pretext of confronting the Islamic State, was mainly directed at checking the opposition advance and then eroding opposition-held territory. More than 80% of airstrikes targeted the opposition, including civilian sites such as medical facilities and markets, rather than ISIS. Protracted sieges and bombing, killing thousands of civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands, led to the reoccupation of eastern Aleppo city in December 2016 and all of southern Syria by July 2018.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu marked the fifth anniversary of intervention last Wednesday: “[This] demonstrated Russia’s capacity to successfully defend its national interests in any location of the planet and its readiness to provide military support to its allies and partners.”