Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev with Bashar al-Assad, Damascus, Syria, July 1, 2021 (AFP)

Russia has fired a propaganda barrage on Syria as Bashar al-Assad hosted Kremlin envoy Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus on Monday.

The meeting was the second this month between the two men. Russian State outlets did not give any details, saying only that it was about “the return of refugees”.

Instead, the Kremlin declared that a Russian delegation of “more than 230 officials from 30 federal executive bodies, five Russian regions, and the Russian Defense Ministry” have been on a working visit to Syria since Saturday.

About 5.6 million Syrians — more than 25% of the country’s population at the start of the March 2011 uprising — are refugees. Few have returned to the country, with many fearing detention, harassment, and loss of property at the hands of regime officials.

The two sides issued a statement on Monday blaming “the ongoing sanctions against Damascus, the illegitimate presence of foreign military contingents on Syrian soil, in addition to the politicization of humanitarian issues”.

Russia’s vetoes in the UN Security Council have closed all but one border crossing, serving millions of Syrian civilians. A sustained diplomatic effort prevented a Russian vetoes and maintained the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey into northwest Syria this month.

See also UN Security Council Agrees 12-Month Extension of 1 Aid Crossing Into Syria

Moscow specifically highlighted its campaign to close the Rukban camp, with about 13,000 displaced Syrians, in the southeast near the Jordanian border.

Rukban’s residents were displaced from 2015 by an Islamic State offensive in central Syria. Fearing consequences from the regime if they return home, they have held out against a Russian-regime siege since autumn 2018, defying malnutrition and lack of medical services.

Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev declared Monday, “The details of the operation to transport civilians from the camp to government territory have been worked out and agreed upon. The UN is ready to provide vehicles.”

See also “My Son is Fighting for His Life”: Rukban’s Displaced Syrians Face Medical Crisis

Mizintsev said there were “15 agreements and memorandums on key areas of Russian-Syrian cooperation”. He proclaimed the delivery of more than 160 tons of aid with a shipment of 250,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and one million test kits.

Russian outlet TASS also declares a statement from an “opposition” leader, Qadri Jamil, pressing the regime’s attempt to regain control of Kurdish-held northeast Syria.

Jamil said of American personnel supporting Kurdish forces, “The chances that Americans will stay in the northeast of Syria for long are few. They cannot stay there for a long time.”

Jamil is a former Deputy Prime Minister with ties to Russia since his university days in Moscow.

Mizintsev added a blast at European states for the conditions in the al-Hol camp, overseen by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, in northeast Syria.

Al-Hol has held about 75,000 displaced Syrian and foreign nationals since the Islamic State’s expulsion from the region in 2019. Many of the camp’s resident are former ISIS members and their families.

See also Kurdish Troops Claim Arrest of Islamic State Leaders in Syria’s Al-Hol Camp