The Syrian president made these statements during a visit to Moscow, and added that he would not meet Turkish President Erdogan.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he would welcome any Russian proposals to establish new military bases and increase the numbers of forces in the Middle Eastern country, noting that the Russian military presence there should become permanent.
When Russia intervened in the war in Syria in 2015, four years after protests began in the country, it helped tip the scales in Assad’s favor, ensuring the Syrian leader’s survival despite Western demands for his ouster.
Assad, who met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Wednesday, backed Moscow’s war in Ukraine and told Russia’s state news agency RIA that Damascus recognizes territory claimed by the Kremlin in Ukraine.
Assad said that Syria would welcome any Russian proposals to establish new military bases and increase the numbers of Russian forces – and he said they should not be temporary.
“We believe that expanding the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” Assad told the RIA news agency in an interview published on Thursday. Russia’s military presence in any country should not be based on anything temporary.
We believe that if Russia has the desire to expand its bases or increase their number, then this is a technical or logistical issue.
In a separate interview with Russia’s Sputnik channel, Assad also said he would not meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until what he called Ankara’s “illegal occupation” of Syrian territory ends.
Al-Assad explained, “This is related to reaching a stage in which it is clear that Turkey will be ready, without any ambiguity, to completely exit Syrian territory, end its support for terrorism, and restore the situation that prevailed before the start of the war on Syria.” Sputnik in an interview carried by Al-Manar TV channel, affiliated with the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah, on Thursday.
This is the only situation when a meeting between me and Erdogan is possible. Besides, what is the value of such a meeting and why would we do it if it does not achieve the final results of the war in Syria?
The defense ministers of the two countries met late last year for talks at the highest level between the two neighbours, whose governments have been at odds since the start of the war in Syria.
Assad’s years as president have been defined by a conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before escalating into a multi-sided conflict that has torn the country apart and drawn foreign friends and foes.
He has won back territory from the opposition with the help of Russia and Iran, but human rights groups have accused all three of war crimes.
Besides the Hmeimim air base, from which Russia launches air strikes in support of Assad, Moscow also controls the Tartus naval facility in Syria, its only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, in use since the days of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in January that Russia and Syria had restored the Al-Jarrah military air base in northern Syria for joint use. The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State (ISIS) militants in 2017.
In Moscow, Assad thanked Putin for the help Russia provided to Syria after last month’s devastating earthquake.
Assad said that Syria stood by Russia on the issue of Ukraine.
According to the Kremlin transcript, Assad told Putin, “Because this is my first visit since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, I would like to reiterate the Syrian position in support of this special operation.”
Al-Assad said that Syria recognizes the lands of Ukraine that Russia seized as Russian.
“I say that these are Russian lands, and even if the war did not happen, these are historically Russian lands,” he told RIA.
Russia claims a fifth of Ukraine and says the territory is now part of Russia. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is expelled from Ukraine. The West says the annexation of Ukrainian lands is illegal.
Assad said Russia and Syria planned to sign an economic cooperation agreement in the coming weeks.
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