President al-Assad to Rossiya Segodnya News Agency: War is not over yet… eliminating terrorists is priority

8 October 2020

President Bashar al-Assad affirmed that the war against terrorism is not over a long as we have terrorists occupying some areas of our country and committing different kinds of crimes and assassinations.

The President added in an interview given to Rossiya Segodnya News Agency that the US, Turkish presence on the Syrian territory is occupation that should be eliminated.

Following is the full text of the interview;

Question 1: Mr. President, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to have this interview at these days when we remember that five years ago the Russian assistance came to Syria. So, after five years of the Russian military operation, nowadays can you say that the war in Syria now is over?

President Assad:  No, definitely not.  As long as you have terrorists occupying some areas of our country and committing different kinds of crimes and assassinations and other crimes, it’s not over, and I think their supervisors are keen to make it continue for a long time. That’s what we believe.

Question 2: And what moments of heroism of the Russians do you recall and keep in your heart? Which of them do you consider worth telling to your grandchildren, let’s say?

President Assad: There are so many, and I remember some of them, of course.  After five years of this cooperation between the Syrian and the Russian army in a vicious war, I think heroism is becoming a collective act; it’s not individual, it’s not only a few cases of heroism that you remember.  For example, if you think about military aircraft pilots – the air force, Russian pilots kept flying over the terrorists on a daily basis, risking their lives, and you had a few aircrafts that had been shot down by the terrorists.  If you talk about the other officers, they are supporting the Syrian army not in the rear lines, but in the front lines and as a consequence you had martyrs.  What I’m going to tell my grandchildren someday is not only about this heroism, but I’m also going to talk about these common values that we have in both our armies that made us brothers during this war; these noble values, faithful to their causes, defending civilians, defending the innocent. Many things to talk about in this war.

Question 3: And what moment does symbolize for you a turning point during this conflict, during this war?

President Assad:  It’s been now nearly ten years since the war started, so we have many turning points that I can mention, not only one.  The first is in 2013 when we started liberating many areas, especially the middle of Syria, from al-Nusra.  Then in 2014, it was in the other direction when ISIS appeared suddenly with American support and they occupied a very important part of Syria and Iraq at the same time; this is when the terrorists started occupying other areas, because ISIS was able to distract the Syrian Army from fulfilling its mission in liberating the western part of Syria.  Then the other turning point was when the Russians came to Syria in 2015 and we started liberating together many areas.  In that stage, after the Russians came to Syria to support the Syrian Army, I’d say the turning point was to liberate the eastern part of Aleppo; this is where the liberation of other areas in Syria started from that point.  It was important because of the importance of Aleppo, and because it was the beginning of the liberation – the large-scale liberation, that continued later to Damascus, to the rest of Aleppo recently, and other areas in the eastern part of Syria and the southern part.  So, these are the main turning points.  If you put them together, all of them are strategic and all of them changed the course of this war.

Question 4: I now will turn to some actual news, and we in Russia follow what now is happening in the region of the Armenian and Azerbaijanian conflict, and definitely Turkey plays a role there. Is it negative or positive, that is not for me to judge, but I would like to ask you about Turkey’s and Erdogan’s policies. So, in recent years, Turkey has been trying to maximize its international influence. We all see its presence in Libya, its intervention into Syria, territorial disputes with Greece, and the now open support to Azerbaijan. What do you think about that kind of behavior of Ankara and Erdogan personally, and should the international community pay more attention to this sort of neo-Othmanism.

President Assad:  Let’s be blunt and clear; Erdogan has supported terrorists in Syria, and he’s been supporting terrorists in Libya, and he was the main instigator and initiator of the recent conflict that has been going on in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  So, I would sum his behavior as dangerous, for different reasons.  First of all, because it reflects the Muslim Brotherhood behavior; Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist extremist group.  Second, because he’s creating war in different areas to distract his own public opinion in Turkey from focusing on his behavior inside Turkey, especially after his scandalous relations with ISIS in Syria; everybody knows that ISIS used to sell Syrian oil through Turkey under the umbrella of the American air forces and of course the involvement of the Turks in selling this oil. So, this is his goal, and this is dangerous.  So, whether the international community should be aware or not, the word “international community” in reality is only a few countries: the great powers and rich countries, and let’s call them the influencers on the political arena.  The majority of this international community is complicit with Turkey in supporting the terrorists.  So, they know what Turkey is doing, they are happy about what Turkey is doing, and Turkey is an arm for those countries in fulfilling their policies and dreams in this region.  So, no, we cannot bet on the international community at all.  You can bet on the international law, but it doesn’t exist because there’s no institution to implement the international law.  So, we have to depend on ourselves in Syria and on the support of our friends.

Question 5: So, more about this conflict. There were reports that some terrorists from the groups that were fighting previously in Syria are now being transferred to this conflict zone between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Can you confirm that? Do you have any information about fighters going from Syria to…?

President Assad:  We definitely can confirm it, not because we have evidence, but sometimes if you don’t have evidence you have indicators.  Turkey used terrorists coming from different countries in Syria. They used the same method in Libya; they used Syrian terrorists in Libya, maybe with other nationalities.  So, it’s self-evident and very probable that they are using that method in Nagorno-Karabakh, because as I said earlier, they are the ones who started this problem, this conflict; they encouraged this conflict.  They want to achieve something and they’re going to use the same method.  So, we can say for sure that they’ve been using Syrian and other nationalities of terrorists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Question 6: Let’s turn now to the relations between our countries, Russia and Syria. Are there any plans for your contacts or meetings with President Putin?

President Assad:  We have regular contact, mainly over the phone, whenever something new happens or whenever there is a need for these conversations.  Of course, we’re going to talk in the future, we’re going to meet in the future, but that depends on the political situation regarding Syria.  And as you know now because of the Coronavirus the whole world is paralyzed, so in the near future I think the conversation will be on the phone.

Question 7: And will you raise the question of the new credits for Syria? For new loans?

President Assad:  In our economic situation, it’s very important to seek loans, but at the same time, you shouldn’t take this step without being able to pay back the loan.  Otherwise it’s going to be a burden, and it’s going to be a debt.  So, it has two aspects.  Talking about loans is in our minds, and we discussed it with our Russian counterparts, but we have to prepare for such a step before taking it seriously, or practically, let’s say.

Question 8: Recently, the delegation from Russia came, and Vice Prime Minister Borisov was here.  Is now Syria interested in buying anti-aircraft systems like S-400 or demanding for additional S-300?

President Assad:  Actually, we started a plan for upgrading our army two years ago, and it’s self-evident that we’re going to do this upgrade in cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Defense, because for decades now, our army depends fully on Russian armaments.  But there are priorities, it’s not necessarily the missiles, maybe you have other priorities now regarding the conflict on the ground.  So, there’s a full-scale plan, but we have to move according to these priorities.  Usually we don’t talk about the details of our military plans, but in general, as I said, it’s upgrading the army in every aspect of the military field.

Question 9: You definitely follow the presidential campaign in the United States. And do you hope that the new US President, regardless of the name of the winner, will review sanctions policies towards Syria?

President Assad:  We don’t usually expect presidents in the American elections, we only expect CEOs; because you have a board, this board is made of the lobbies and the big corporates like banks and armaments and oil, etc.  So, what you have is a CEO, and this CEO doesn’t have the right or the authority to review; he has to implement.  And that’s what happened to Trump when he became president after the elections –

Journalist: He used to be CEO for many years before.

President Assad:  Exactly! And he is a CEO anyway.  He wanted to follow or pursue his own policy, and he was about to pay the price – you remember the impeachment issue.  He had to swallow every word he said before the elections.  So, that’s why I said you don’t expect a president, you only expect a CEO.  If you want to talk about changing the policy, you have one board – the same board will not change its policy.  The CEO will change but the board is still the same, so don’t expect anything.

Question 10: Who are this board? Who are these people?

President Assad:  As I said, this board is made up of the lobbies, so they implement whatever they want, and they control the Congress and the others, and the media, etc.  So, there’s an alliance between those different self-vested interest corporations in the US.

Question 11: So, Trump pledged to withdraw American troops from Syria but he failed to do that. Now he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Do you think if he manages to bring American troops home, is he going to be awarded that Nobel Peace Prize?

President Assad: He’s nominated?

Journalism: He is nominated.

President Assad:  I didn’t know about this.  If you want to talk about nomination for peace, peace is not only about withdrawing your troops; it’s a step, it’s a good step, and it’s a necessary step.  But peace is about your policy, it’s about your behavior.  It means to stop occupying land, to stop toppling governments just because they are not with you, to stop creating chaos in different areas of the world. Peace is to follow the international law and to support the United Nations Charter, etc.  This is peace, this is when you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.  Obama had this prize; he had just been elected and he hadn’t done anything. The only achievement he had at that time maybe, was that he moved from his house to the White House, and he was given a Nobel Prize.  So, they would give it to Trump for something similar.  I don’t know what is it, but definitely not peace.

Question 12: So, Trump acknowledged recently that he intended to eliminate you personally, and that the Pentagon Chief Mattis persuaded him not to do so.  Did you know about that at that time, and were some measures undertaken to prevent it?

President Assad:  Assassination is American modus operandi, that’s what they do all the time, for decades, everywhere, in different areas in this world, this is not something new.  So, you have to keep it in your mind that this kind of plan has always existed for different reasons.  We have to expect this in our situation in Syria, with this conflict, with the Americans, they occupy our land, and they are supporting the terrorists.  It’s expected; even if you don’t have any information, it should be self-evident.  How do you prevent it?  It’s not about the incident per se – it’s not about this plan regarding this person or this president, it’s about the behavior.  Nothing will deter the United States from committing these kinds of vicious actions or acts unless there’s an international balance where the United States cannot get away with its crimes.  Otherwise, it’s going to continue these kinds of acts in different areas, and nothing would stop it.

Question 13: And were there any other attempts on you during your presidency?

President Assad: I didn’t hear of any attempt, but as I said, it’s self-evident that you have many attempts, or maybe, plans to be more precise.  I mean, let’s say, were they active or on hold? Nobody knows.

Question 14: Now I turn back to the situation in Syria, and will you run for presidency in the year 2021?

President Assad It’s still early to talk about it because we still have a few months.  I can take this decision at the beginning of next year.

Question 15:  Interesting. And have you congratulated Mr. Alexander Lukashenko with his inauguration in Belarus, and do you probably see similarities between political technologies that were used by the UK and the US to support Belarusian opposition, and those methods that were used against Syria and against the Syrian state in information war?

President Assad:  I did send a congratulation letter to President Lukashenko and that’s normal.  With regards to what’s happening in Belarus: regardless of the similarities between the two countries – Syria and Belarus – or the differences, regardless of whether you have a real conflict or an artificial one in a country, the West – as long as it hasn’t changed its hegemonic policy around the world – is going to interfere anywhere in the world.  If you have a real problem in your country, whether it’s small or big, it’s going to interfere.  And if it’s domestic, they’re going to make it international just to interfere and meddle in your affairs.  If you don’t have problems, they’re going to do their best to create problems and to make them international again in order to meddle in your affairs.  This is their policy.

So, it’s not about what’s happening in Belarus.  Like any other country, Syria, Belarus, your country, every country has their own problems.  Does the West have the right to interfere or not?  That’s what we have to oppose.  So, going back to your question, yes, it’s the same behavior, it’s the same strategy, it’s the same tactics.  The only difference is the branding of the products, different headlines.  They use certain headlines for Russia, others for Venezuela, another one for Syria, and so on.  So, it’s not about Belarus; it’s about the behavior of the West and it’s about their strategy for the future, because they think with the rise of Russia, with the rise of China, with the rise of other powers around the world, this is an existential threat for them, so the only way to oppose or to face this threat is by creating chaos around the world.

Question 16: So, you have already mentioned the Coronavirus and it affected all humankind. Was someone from the government infected, or maybe you personally?

President Assad:  Thank God, no.  And I don’t think anyone from our government has been infected.

Question 17: That’s good news. And would you personally like to take the Russian vaccine?

President Assad: Of course, in these circumstances anyone would love to be vaccinated against this dangerous virus.  But I think it’s not available for the international market yet, but we’re going to discuss it with the Russian authority when it’s available internationally to have vaccines for the Syrian market.  It’s very important.

Journalist: Yes, and Russians have already suggested that it can be available for our international partners…

President Assad: They said in November it could be available.

Question 18: So, you will be asking for the Russian vaccine?

President Assad:  Yes, definitely, it’s a necessity at these times.

Question 19: And in what amount?

President Assad:  That depends on how much is available and we have to discuss the amount that we need with the health authority in Syria.

Question 20: So, you are going to have negotiations in detail with the Russian authorities.

President Assad:  Definitely, of course.  Everybody in Syria is asking about the Russian vaccine and when it’s going to be available.

Question 21: Now, on the backdrop of the pandemic outbreak, does the public demand to change the constitution still exist? Because Coronavirus created a new paradigm in the world, and certainly in politics. So, the problems and the Geneva talks cast doubts on the question whether the need to change the constitution still exists. What do you think about that?

President Assad:  No, there’s no relation between the Coronavirus and the constitution.  We changed the constitution in 2012 and now we are discussing the constitution in the Geneva talks.  We had a round of negotiations nearly one month ago.  So, the Coronavirus delayed those rounds, but it didn’t stop them.

Ultimately, the Geneva negotiations are a political game, it’s not what the public – the Syrians, are focused on.  The Syrian people are not thinking about the constitution, nobody is talking about it.  Their concerns are regarding the reforms we need to enact and the policies we need to change to ensure their needs are met.  This is what we are discussing at the moment and where our concerns are, and where the government is focusing its efforts.

Question 22: So, you say that the Geneva talks should continue, and the constitution on the agenda, and still there should be more discussions?

President Assad:  Yes, of course.  We started and we’re going to continue in the next few weeks.

Question 23: Will Syria decide to conduct a trial against the White Helmets, and do you think that there should be a sort of international investigation on their activities, probably under the UN umbrella?

President Assad:  When there is a crime, you don’t take the knife or the weapon to trial, you send the criminal to trial.  In this case, the White Helmets are just the tools or the means – the weapon that’s been used for terrorism.  They were created by the United Kingdom, supported by the United States and of course France and other Western countries, and used directly by Turkey.  All these regimes are the real father and mother of the White Helmets, so they have to be held accountable even before the White Helmets themselves.  Now, the question is do we have international laws to pursue such procedures?  No, we don’t.  Otherwise, the United States wouldn’t get away with its crimes in Iraq for example, in Yemen, or in different areas.  Not only the United States, but also France, the UK and different countries, and the US in Syria.  But you don’t have these institutions that could implement such laws, as I mentioned earlier.  So, no, we have to focus more on the perpetrators, the real perpetrators, the real supervisors.  They are the Western countries and their puppets in the region.

Question 24: But should probably any step be undertaken concretely toward the White Helmets? Because they are still active?

President Assad: Yes, of course, they are criminals. I’m not saying anything different.  Before they were the White Helmets, they were al-Nusra; there are videos and images of all those criminals, so they have to be tried in Syria.  But when you talk about the White Helmets as an institution, it’s made by the West.  So, they are criminals as individuals, but the White Helmets is a Western institution – an extremist terrorist organization – based on al-Nusra organization.

Question 25: You say that the presence of the US and Turkish army in Syria is illegal. What will you do to stop it?

President Assad: It is an occupation and, in this situation, we have to do two things: the first is to eliminate the excuse that they’ve been using for this occupation, which is the terrorists – in this case ISIS.  Most of the world now knows that ISIS was created by the Americans and is supported by them; they give them their missions, like any American troops.  You have to eliminate the excuse, so, eliminating the terrorists in Syria is priority number one for us.  After that, if they, the Americans and the Turks, don’t leave, the natural thing that will happen is popular resistance.  This is the only way; they won’t leave through discussion or through international law since it doesn’t exist. So, you don’t have any other means but resistance and this is what happened in Iraq.  What made the Americans withdraw in 2007? It was because of the popular resistance in Iraq.

Question 26: So, what do you think about the agreement between the US and the Syrian Kurds in terms of extracting oil? And will you undertake any measures against it?

President Assad:  This is robbery, and the only way to stop this robbery is to liberate your land.  If you don’t liberate it, no measure will stop them from doing this because they are thieves, and you cannot stop a thief unless you put him in prison or you deter him somehow by isolating him from the area where he can commit his robbery.  So, the same thing has to be done with those thieves.  They have to be expelled from this region; this is the only way.  And the Syrian government should control every part of Syria, so the situation will return to normal.

Question 27: How do you assess the situation in Idlib? How is Syria going to resolve the problem of expelling terrorists from there, and how many of them fight now there, how many terrorists, to your assessment?

President Assad:  Since 2013, we adopted a certain, let’s say, methodology in dealing with these areas where the terrorists control mainly the civilians or the cities.  We give them the chance to give up their armaments and in return they are granted amnesty from the government; that has succeeded in many areas in Syria.  But if they don’t seek reconciliation, we have to attack militarily, and that’s what happened in every area we have liberated since 2013.  This methodology applies to the areas where there were national reconciliations and the fighters were Syrian.  However, Idlib is a different case; most of the foreigners in Syria are concentrated in Idlib, so they either go to Turkey – this is where they came from, or came through, or they go back to their countries or they die in Syria.

Question 28: In Europe?

President Assad:  Mainly in Europe.  Some of them came from Russia, from Arab countries, from so many countries around the world.  All those Jihadist extremists wanted to come and fight in Syria.

Question 29: So, now this area is under the, let’s say, the supervision and the common operations by Russians, by Turks, sometimes by Americans. Do you see that this cooperation is efficient, and how this experience can be used in the future?

President Assad No, I don’t think it’s efficient for a simple reason: if it was efficient, we wouldn’t have gone to war recently in many areas in Aleppo and Idlib.  Because the Turkish regime was supposed to convince the terrorists in that area to withdraw and pave the way for the Syrian Army and the Syrian government and institutions to take control, but they didn’t.  Every time they give the same commitment; they haven’t fulfilled any of their promises or commitments.  So, no, I wouldn’t say this cooperation was effective, but let’s see.  They still have another chance to withdraw the terrorists north of the M4 in Idlib. This is their latest commitment in agreement with the Russian side, but they haven’t fulfilled it yet.  So, let’s wait and see.

Question 30: Do you consider the possibility of negotiations with Israel in terms of, you know, stopping the hostile activities? And is it possible that in the future Syria will establish diplomatic relations with Israel, as several Arab countries did recently?

President Assad:  Our position is very clear since the beginning of peace talks in the nineties, so nearly three decades ago, when we said peace for Syria is about rights.  Our right is our land.  We can only have normal relations with Israel when we have our land back.  It’s very simple.  So, it is possible when Israel is ready and Israel is not ready.  It has never been ready; we’ve never seen any official in the Israeli regime who is ready to move one step towards peace. So, theoretically yes, but practically, so far, the answer is no.

Question 31: So, this news from other Arab countries who have established recently, I thought probably can be an impetus for Syria and Israel to start negotiations, but as I understand there are no negotiations between your countries underway at the time.

President Assad: No, there is none, nothing at all.

Question 32: You have already mentioned the enforcement of your armed forces. What are the obstacles for it? Do you see any obstacles for enforcing your armed forces?

President Assad:  When you talk about big projects, you always have obstacles, but you can overcome these obstacles; nothing is impossible.  Sometimes it could be financial, sometimes it could be about priorities, sometimes it could be about the situation on the ground.  This is the only obstacle. Otherwise, no, we don’t have any obstacles.  We are moving forward in that regard, but it takes time.  It’s a matter of time, nothing more.

Question 33: Some international players say that Iranian withdrawal from Syria is a precondition for economic restoration of the country and cooperation with the Syrian government, of the Western governments and probably the businesses. Will Syria agree with this condition, and will it ask Iran to withdraw, if ever?

President Assad:  First of all, we don’t have Iranian troops and that’s very clear.  They support Syria, they send their military experts, they work with our troops on the ground, they exist with the Syrian Army.  But let’s take one practical example: nearly a year ago, the Americans told the Russians to ” convince the Iranians that they should be 80 kilometers away from the border with the Golan Heights” that is occupied by the Israelis.  Although there were no Iranian troops, the Iranians were very flexible, they said “ok, no Iranian personnel will be south of that line” and the Americans said that if we can agree upon this, we are going to withdraw from the occupied eastern part of Syria on the borders with Iraq called al-Tanf.  Nothing happened, they didn’t withdraw.  So, the Iranian issue is a pretext for occupying Syrian land and supporting terrorists.  It’s used as a mask to cover their real intentions.  The only way for them to implement what they are saying is when Syria becomes a puppet state to the United States.  That’s what they want, nothing else.  Everything else they talk about is just lies, false flag allegations.  So, I don’t think there’s any real solution with the Americans as long as they don’t want to change their behavior.

Question 34: And the last question: is there anything that you are proud of, and anything that you are sorry for doing or not doing?

President Assad: During the war?

Journalist: During your presidency.

President Assad:  You have to differentiate between the policies and between the implementation.  In terms of policies, from the very beginning we have said we’re going to listen to the Syrian people and that’s why we reformed the constitution in 2012.  We have said we’re going to fight the terrorists and we are still doing that after ten years.  We have said that we have to preserve our independence – national independence and that’s what we are fighting for, and we have to make alliance with our friends.  So, regarding these policies, I think we were right.  Not trusting the West? We were right on many fronts.  In terms of implementation, it’s about the tactics, it’s about many things that you may say were wrong. For example: were the reconciliations wrong?  Because in some areas those people who had amnesty, didn’t go back to the rule of law.  So, you can say this is wrong, but in reality, those reconciliations were very important steps.  I don’t think that in the policies we were wrong.  You have many mistakes regarding the implementation anywhere and sometimes on a daily basis.

Journalist: Ok, Mr. President, our time is running out, so again, thanks a lot for this frank and lengthy interview.

President Assad: Thank you. Thank you for coming to Syria.

Journalist: Thank you very much.

8 October 2020


President Bashar al-Assad’s Interview with Russian Zvezda TV Station

4 October 2020

President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to the Russian Zvezda TV Station, following is the full text:

Journalist: Mr. President, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity and meeting with us. We are here in Syria on the fifth anniversary of the start of Russian military operations on the territories of your country, the operation which aimed at liberating Syria from terrorism. That’s why we want to discuss with you and sum up the outcomes of these events.

President Assad: You are welcome in Syria. It’s my pleasure to meet you today and to give this interview to your respectable TV station.

Question 1: Mr. President, if we look back at the events which happened five years ago, how do you describe the situation which existed in Syria in 2015? Did you hope to get outside help then?

President Assad: In order to sum up the position at that time, I can say that it was very dangerous. The terrorists were advancing in different regions of Syria and occupying cities, with direct support from the United States, France, the UK, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; in addition to the indirect support from other Western countries.

This dangerous situation in Syria was the subject of discussions between us and the Russian military and political leadership, particularly after 2014 when ISIS started operating and occupying large areas in the Syrian steppe. We were hoping, of course, to receive help for a number of reasons. First, the political position of Syria is important, and consequently any disturbance in this region will spread throughout the Middle East and also affect other regions. The struggle for Syria dates back to prehistoric times because of its importance, this is nothing new. The other reason is that the terrorism, which Syria is fighting, is the same terrorism which kidnapped the children of the Beslan school in 2004, and it is the same terrorism which attacked the Moscow theater and killed innocent people. This is a global terrorism and therefore it is in Russia’s interest, first to strike at this terrorism in Syria, and second to preserve this stability which might affect other countries’ interests, including Russia’s own.

Question 2: If we compare the situation that existed five years ago with the situation now, what is your assessment of what Russia is doing, the role of the Ministry of Defense, and what the Russian troops are doing, operating here for the past five years on the frontline in the war on terrorism?

President Assad: There is no doubt that the Russian Army is highly advanced technically, this has been proven and has become evident during the war. It is also highly professional, in terms of identifying its goals accurately and proceeding with determination to achieve them. With regards to the Russian military personnel that we have engaged with at all levels from officers to soldiers, they have worked incessantly; for example, when the battles were fierce, Russian pilots would start their air raids at three in the morning, before sunrise, and would sometimes continue late into the night. They had no time to rest. The Russian Army has of course made sacrifices, some of its members have been martyred on Syrian territory.

The Russian Ministry of Defense – which is the umbrella under which these fighters operate – in its military and political capacity, has shown a great degree of credibility. It would have been difficult to carry out these joint military operations between our two armies, had it not been for the credibility of the Russian Defense Ministry which was made evident by their transparency, clarity and integrity in everything that we agreed and implemented together during the past five years. This sums up the impressions of many Syrian military personnel in their relations with their Russian counterparts. I would like to add a final point: The Russian people have always been proud of their army, but after all these battles, they have every right to be even prouder of its great achievements.

Question 3: Thank you very much for these words. Let’s go back to the cooperation between the Russian and the Syrian armies. Since we have talked about this, the Syrian Army has also changed a lot during the past five years. What are the areas of expertise which the Syrian experts, the Syrian military, have acquired through their interaction with the Russian military and the Russian Defense Ministry?

President Assad: There is no doubt that the Russian Army possesses a wide range of expertise. This dates back to the Great Patriotic War during which it acquired military expertise in a conventional war, in addition to the expertise it acquired during the Chechen War. That was an unconventional war and similar to the one we are fighting today, in the sense that it was supported by foreign powers in order to weaken Russia and perhaps even with the objective of dividing it. It involved terrorist groups which appeared in different forms as sleeper cells; everything in the Chechen War was unconventional.

We also have a lot of experience, albeit different. Our experience in fighting terrorism dates back to the second half of the 1970s and continued into the early 1980s; it was also a fight against extremist terrorist groups. However, the war we are currently fighting is similar to the Chechen War in that it is unconventional and they are being supported by foreign powers; they are less than an army but more than sleeper cells.

Therefore, merging the Russian and Syrian expertise in dealing with terrorism was undoubtedly very important, especially since during this time (past five years), the terrorists have developed their techniques in ways which are outside of our expertise. This means that there are lessons for both armies to learn from in dealing with terrorism. It is safe to say that militarily it was a very rich experience; and since terrorism has not ceased, there are always new lessons to learn, especially since no battle is the same. No doubt that bringing together the vast experience and expertise of both the Syrian and Russian Armies proved to be very useful, especially for us in Syria.

Question 4: You know that in the end there are similarities between our two countries in many ways. Syria has for many centuries been at the crossroads of the interests of different countries, or let’s say different powers. Russia, too, throughout its history, has fought many wars. But we have never started a war. The enemy has always come to us. Since you have touched on this subject, our country celebrates this year the 75th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. In that war, which had a horrible impact on the Russian people, the turning point was the battle for Stalingrad, after which the offensive started westward. We were able to expel (excuse me for the expression) the fascists from our country. Can we compare that to what happened to the Syrian people, I mean the battle for liberating Aleppo, which is often described as the Syrian Stalingrad. What is the impact of liberating Aleppo on the process of liberating Syria from terrorism?

President Assad: You are asking about a very important juncture in the Syrian war – the battle for Aleppo. The comparison you are making is familiar to Syrians because Aleppo was besieged for more than two years. During most of that time it was a complete siege, and so if it was possible to bring in foodstuffs or basic necessities, it was done at a high risk through corridors that were constantly under terrorist fire with no certainty of delivery. There was no electricity, no water, no basic supplies; nevertheless, the people of Aleppo were steadfast throughout the battle.

So, I believe that the importance of the comparison lies first in the siege and also in the steadfastness of the people. When you referred to Stalingrad, you highlighted the steadfastness of the people before you mentioned the military victory; in other words, without the steadfastness of the people of Stalingrad, the Russian army wouldn’t have been able to launch a great offensive. The same also applies to Syria; without the steadfastness of the people of Aleppo, it wouldn’t have been possible for the Syrian Army to prepare for such a major battle.

Coincidentally, a further comparison is that in Stalingrad, the army kept moving west until the end of World War II. In Aleppo too, the army moved west; and to continue the process of liberation towards Idleb, we must also continue to move westward.

Both Aleppo and Damascus are the two largest Syrian cities, and so Aleppo has a political, economic, and military importance. There is no doubt that in terms of strategic outcomes, the battle of Aleppo was very important, regardless of the surface area or the number of fighters. Its outcome was decisive and changed the course of the war in Syria; and therefore, I believe that militarily and politically, the situation after the battle of Aleppo, was very different to that before the battle. So, the comparison you have made is correct, after taking into account of course the difference in surface areas between the two countries.

Question 5: This battle had great dimensions for Syria, and also incurred huge losses. It played an essential role in changing the course of events. Mr. President, based on the agreement which was signed between Russia and Syria in your country, today there are two Russian military bases, Hmeimim and Tartous. In your opinion, what is the role that these two bases will play in providing security in Syria today? And what is the role that they will play in the future?

President Assad: The Russian military role in Syria –particularly the role of military bases – can be viewed from two perspectives; the first is fighting terrorism, which we call international terrorism. This will end one day or at least it will be weakened as a result of the continuing battles to eliminate it; so, what comes after this terrorism? The other perspective is related to the role of Russia in the world. Today, we live in an international jungle; we do not live under international law. The reason why we live in this jungle is that for a quarter of a century there has been no international balance. International balance requires a Russian role: politically – in international organizations, and militarily – through military bases.

How do we benefit from this situation? Syria, as a small country and like many small countries, and possibly even most countries around the world, will all benefit from this international balance. In that sense, Syria will benefit indirectly from this new balance.

Therefore, we shouldn’t have a narrow view of the Russian presence to only fighting terrorism, because the time frame of the base, or the agreement, is 45 years. Terrorism will not continue to exist for 45 years, so what comes after terrorism? There is an important Russian role necessary for international balance in which military presence in different parts of the world plays an essential part. Of course, when the West abandons the use of military force to create problems around the world, Russia might not need these bases, but for now, Russia and the world need the balance that I have mentioned.

Question 6: Mr. President, let’s talk about those who constantly violate and ignore international law, and you know who I’m talking about. You are the elected President of the Syrian Arab Republic. You led the war on terrorism. The law is on your side, and the people are behind you; nevertheless, we constantly hear some Western leaders making bad statements such as: “Assad must leave.” We remember very well how Barack Obama talked about this. Unfortunately, the same is being repeated now by Donald Trump. Recently, a book was published in the United States, Fear: Trump in the White House, by famous American journalist Bob Woodward, in which he states that in 2017, after the missile attack on Syria, Trump wanted to assassinate you, and I quote: “Let’s kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the lot of them.” How do you comment on that? What did you do? Why do they demonize you?

President Assad: First of all, regarding the statements which always call for the removal of the president: The United States is used to having presidents – let’s say, as American agents, in the sense that it appoints them – and consequently it tells them: now you stay. And when their role comes to an end, it tells them: go. They are used to that. I am not one of those (presidents), and consequently all the statements they make do not concern us at all. They do not bother us, and we do not care about them. This is an American discourse directed at the Americans themselves.

Question 7: Aren’t you vexed by the West’s disregard for its relationship with you, which can sometimes be rude?

President Assad: No, no, because it is less important than warranting one’s concern about it and I’ll tell you why. If we look at Trump’s recent statements quoted in the book you mentioned, they are neither surprising nor new. The American policy since the Cold War, and even since the end of World War II up until today, is a policy of hegemony, of coup d’états, of assassinations and wars. So, this is normal, Trump hasn’t said anything new.

On the contrary, we have to recognize that Trump has an important merit, which is exposing the American regime. For us, it was already exposed, but it was hiding behind some pretty masks – like democracy, human rights, and other similar things. Trump is frank. He says, “this is what we do.” So even if Trump doesn’t say it, we must know that it is part of their policy and part of their thinking. The United States does not accept partners in the world, and consequently does not accept independent states, including in the West. The West is a satellite of the United States, not its partner. They are not independent. The Americans do not accept an independent individual or an independent state. They do not even accept Russia, which is a superpower, to be independent. They do not accept you even in history; they even deny your role in eliminating Nazism, as if Russia had no role in that.

So, if they haven’t accepted Russia in the past, why would they accept it in the present? And if they haven’t accepted the large Russian state as independent, would they accept Syria, a smaller country, as an independent state? This is the problem with the Americans: they do not accept any individual who acts in the best interest of his country, any individual who respects himself, or maintains an independent national decision.

Question 8: Yes, this is another similarity between our two countries. Well, can we talk about the process of granting amnesty to members of the armed groups. How is the process of reconciliation between the opponents going? In July, parliamentary elections were held in which the ruling coalition won. We congratulate you on that, but it is clear that the problem of the opposition is still there.

I still remember when the Geneva talks were conducted, representatives of the government and the opposition were brought into the meeting halls from different doors, so that they do not fight among themselves. How is this process going now? What is new about the constitutional committee? What is the role of the international mediators in this process? The role of the United Nations? What is the role of Russia? And whom do you personally trust in this process?

President Assad: Concerning the negotiations, Russia and Iran play an important role in supporting these negotiations and moving them forward in order to try and achieve something, albeit partially – because the negotiations will take a long time. But let’s be frank. When we talk about another party which we call “the opposition” – and you have opposition in your country – a prerequisite of the opposition is that it should be patriotic, and it should come from within the Russian people and represent at least part of them. However, when you, as a Russian citizen, know that this opposition, or this individual, is linked to a foreign intelligence agency, you do not call them opposition, because opposition is linked to patriotism.

With regards to what is happening in the negotiations, there is a party supported by the Syrian government because it represents its views. However, there is another party which has been chosen by Turkey, which is not a Syrian party. Turkey, and those countries behind it, like the United States and others, have no interest in reaching any genuine results in the deliberations of the committee. They are seeking to weaken and dismantle the state; this is exactly what has happened in other regions where the United States interferes and imposes a constitution that leads to unrest and chaos instead of stability.

This is something we do not accept and we will not negotiate over things which undermine Syria’s stability. That’s why if we really want the negotiations to produce results, all those individuals need to take their cue from what the Syrian people, in their different sections and political affiliations, want. I believe that the coming rounds of negotiations will show this more clearly. If the dialogue is Syrian-Syrian, it will succeed. But as long as there is foreign interference, the negotiations cannot succeed.

Question 9: If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a number of personal questions which have to do with the past in one way or another. Can you please tell us if you have thought, throughout all the horrible events that you and your country have experienced throughout the war, that you are hanging between life and death? Have you thought about that at any point in time?

President Assad: If you had come to Damascus before 2018, for instance, we would have been sitting here with shells falling around us from time to time. Death was a probability for any citizen, anyone walking in the street or riding a bus, in their car, going to work or going anywhere. They could have been hit by shells that could have caused death or injury. That was a probability during the war. But I think that humans, by nature, are capable of adapting to this situation, in any country or any place in the world. That’s why life carried on in Damascus, and I personally went to work every day, never stopped at any time, even under the shelling. There was no other choice. One cannot hide; otherwise the terrorists would have achieved their objectives. Our strength is that life continued. That’s why I think that with the passing of time, you stop thinking about it. Maybe, it becomes part of your subconscious mind, but not part of your daily thinking; it becomes something you get used to.

Question 10: Looking at your life today, as president of a state leading the fight against terrorism, is that the life you dreamt of at a certain point in time when you had a different type of life?

President Assad: This terrorism we are experiencing today has been attacking us since the 1950s. At every stage, it developed its techniques. In the 1950s it created chaos but it wasn’t armed, in the 1960s it started to become armed. In the 1970s and 80s it became organized, and today this same terrorism has developed its tactics and gained political support, with backing from countries and banks.
Our fate with terrorism has existed even before I, and most Syrians, were born and therefore it should always remain in our minds. Even if we defeat this terrorism, we should always think that it could come back. For the simple reason that first and foremost, it is not about individuals in as much as it is about ideology; as long as the West continues to take reference from its colonial past and continues to think of hegemony, it is inevitable that it will continue to bring this terrorism back to life in other forms. We must think realistically that even if it was eliminated, it could appear later in different forms. That’s why the battle for us, is against terrorist ideology before it is a battle against terrorists as individuals; when this ideology is eliminated, the West and Syria’s enemies, will no longer have the tools to resurrect it.

Journalist: Do you think so?

President Assad: I do think so, because the West will not change in the foreseeable future. And also, because the intellectual war is more difficult than a military war and it takes longer to rehabilitate and equip new generations with the right kind of thinking: with non-extremist thought, non-fanatic thought, with open-mindedness. Just as this terrorist ideology has been developed since the 1960s; it took 50 years to reach the stage we are at. It does not appear and spread throughout the world overnight. Hundreds of billions have been spent to establish it and the West has been supporting it since the days of British rule, even before the American presence. They have supported religious extremism since the beginning of the 20th century; so, fighting it needs time.

Journalist: We hope for the best, and that with the help of God, and with open-mindedness, we will win together. Mr. President, thank you for meeting with us, and for the time that you have taken to answer our questions. Allow us to wish you and your family good health and well-being, and to wish Syria peace and prosperity. Thank you.

President Assad: Thank you; and I would like to take this opportunity to send my regards, through your programme, to the families of the Russian fighters in Syria. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Russian people are proud of what their army has achieved in Syria, but these families certainly have the right to be even prouder, than any other citizen, of the great achievements made by their sons in Syria; they have not only protected the Syrian people, but they have also protected their own families and their Russian compatriots.

Once again, you’re welcome in Syria, and thank you.

Journalist: Thank you very much for these kind words.