Syria’s President Assad has granted a lengthy interview to America’s NBC News. Most of Assad’s comments are the standard defense of his rule, supposedly supported by the Syrian people, and denial of any abuses or unjust killings. As usual, he blames foreign powers for the conflict, saying that without their backing of “terrorists”, it would be over within a few months. However, for the first time, Assad offers an important admission. He all but says explicitly that Russia’s military intervention from late September saved him and his regime.
A few weeks ago, you told lawmakers here that you would retake every inch of Syria. The U.S. State Department called that “delusional”. You’re a long way from winning this war, aren’t you? Never mind retaking every inch of Syria.
Actually, the Syrian Army has made a lot of advancement recently, and that is the goal of any army or any government. I don’t think the statement for the United States is relevant. It doesn’t reflect any respect to the international law, to the Charter of the United Nations. It doesn’t reflect respect of the sovereignty of a country that it had the right to take control of its full land.
But how long do you think this will take you to win this war?
You’re talking about something that is related to many factors. The most important factor is how long are the supporters of those terrorists are going to keep supporting them, especially Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the endorsement of some Western countries including the United States. If you don’t have that support, it won’t take more than a few months.
More than a few months. You see, I’ve been here ten times, and I’ve heard your governors say “it will take a month to retake Homs, it will take six months to retake somewhere else.” It always takes longer than that. So, realistically, this will take years, won’t it?
That’s why I said that depends on how much support the terrorists are going to have, how much recruitment are you going to have in Turkey with the Saudi money, to have more terrorists coming to Syria. Their aim is to prolong the war, so they can prolong it if they want, and they’ve already succeeded in that.
So that depends on the question. If you’re talking about how much it’s going to take as only a Syrian conflict, an isolated conflict, this is where it won’t take more than a few months. But if it’s not isolated, as is the case today with the interference of many regional and international powers, it will be going to take a long time, and no-one has the answer to the question you have posed. Nobody knows how the war is going to develop.
A year ago, the war was going quite differently. You made a speech in which you said you were short of troops, you had to give up some areas reluctantly. What changed after that? Was it that Russia entered the war? That’s the real reason this war is turning, isn’t it? That Russia is on your side.
Definitely, the Russian support of the Syrian Army has tipped the scales against the terrorists.
It’s the crucial factor?
It is, it is, definitely. At the same time, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have sent more troops since that Russian legal intervention started, but in spite of that, it was the crucial factor, as you just mentioned.
So, you owe President Putin a lot.
President Assad: Everyone who stood beside us; Russians, Iranians, and even the Chinese stood, but each one in its own way, whether political, military, or economic, because it’s not one factor; you cannot only talk about the firepower or the human resources. It’s a multi-factor issue. All those countries supported Syria, beside other countries who supported to a lesser degree.
Has President Putin demanded anything of you? What’s the deal?
When he wanted to intervene? He didn’t ask for anything.
For a simple reason: first of all, their politics are built on values. This is very important. The second thing, their interest is common interest with us now, because they are fighting the same terrorists that they should fight in Russia. We are fighting the terrorists that could be fighting in Europe, in the United States, anywhere else in the world.
But the difference between President Putin and the other Western officials is that he could see that clearly while the other officials in Europe or in the West in general couldn’t see that. That’s why his intervention is based on values, and at the same time based on the interest of the Russian people.
Do you speak much with him?
When there’s something to speak about, of course we speak, or through officials.
How often, for example, this year, have you spoken with him?
I didn’t count them, but many times. We spoke many times.
And how would you describe your relationship with him?
Very frank, very honest, mutual respect.
But he has demanded nothing of you, is that the case?
Nothing at all, nothing at all.
Because the suspicion is that Russia may be working in concert with the United States, and Secretary of State Kerry is meeting Vladimir Putin Thursday in Moscow. The suspicion is that they are coming to some sort of deal that might be bad news for you.
First of all, regarding the first part, if he wanted to ask for something, he would ask me to fight the terrorists, because this is where his interest as a president and as a country – I mean Russia – lies.
Second, regarding that allegation from time to time, that the Russians met with the Americans and they discussed something about the Syrian issue, like, in order to give the impression that they are deciding what is going to happen in Syria. Many times, the Russian officials many times said clearly that the Syrian issue is related to the Syrian people, and yesterday [Russian Foreign] Minister Lavrov said that clearly; said we cannot sit with the Americans to define what the Syrians want to do. This is a Syrian issue, only the Syrian people can define the future of their country and how to solve their problem.
The role of Russia and the United States is to offer the international atmosphere, to protect the Syrians from any intervention. The problem in that regard is that the Russians are honest, the Americans didn’t deliver anything in that regard. But, this is not to take the decision about what we have to do as Syrians.
So just to be clear: neither Foreign Secretary Lavrov nor President Putin has ever talked to you about political transition, about a day when you would leave power? That’s never come up?
Never, because as I said, this is related to the Syrian people. Only the Syrian people define who’s going to be the president, when to come, and when to go. They never said a single word regarding this.
Question 15: And you’re not worried in the least about Secretary Kerry meeting Vladimir Putin and coming to an understanding in which you may have to leave power?
President Assad: No, for one reason: because their politics, I mean the Russian politics, is not based on making deals; it’s based on values. And that’s why you don’t see any achievement between them and the Americans because of different principles. The American politics are based on making deals, regardless of the values, which
is not the case for the Russians.
But of course it’s not just Russia that’s bombing your enemies; it’s the United States. Do you welcome American airstrikes against ISIS?
No, because it’s not legal. First of all, it’s not legal.
It’s not legal for Russia to do it, is it?
No, they are invited legally and formally by the Syrian government. It’s the right of any government to invite any other country to help in any issue. So, they are legal in Syria, while the Americans are not legal, with their allies, of course all of them are not legal. This is first. Second, since the Russian intervention, terrorism has been, let’s say, regressing, while before that, and during the American illegal intervention with their allies ISIS was expanding and terrorism was expanding and taking over new areas in Syria. They’re not serious. So, I cannot say I welcome the un-seriousness and to be in Syria illegally.
Thousands of missions, hundreds of airstrikes… the United States is not being serious in Syria?
President Assad: The question is not how many strikes. What is the achievement? That’s the question. The reality is telling, the reality is telling that since the beginning of the American airstrikes, terrorism has been expanding and prevailing, not vice versa. It only shrank when the Russians intervened. So, this is reality.
We have to talk about facts, it’s not only about the pro forma action that they’ve been taking.
So, American airstrikes are ineffective and counterproductive?
Yes, it is counterproductive somehow. When terrorism is growing, it is counterproductive. That’s correct.