Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, has told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that he would welcome any Russian decisions to establish new military bases and increase troop numbers within Syria, in a seemingly direct invitation to have a permanent Russian military presence in the war-torn country.
Following his arrival in Moscow yesterday in a visit to his regime’s patron and ally, Assad today told Russia’s state news agency, RIA, that “We think that expanding the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing”. He further stated that “Russia’s military presence in any country should not be based on anything temporary”, and that “if Russia has the desire to expand bases or increase their number, it is a technical or logistical issue.”
According to a transcript by the Kremlin, Assad reiterated to Putin the regime’s full support to Moscow in its ongoing one-year-long invasion of Ukraine. “Because this is my first visit since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, I would like to repeat the Syrian position in support of this special operation,” he said.
As part of that support, Assad emphasised his recognition of the Ukrainian territory conquered by Russian forces – approximately a fifth of Ukraine – as Russian territories. “I say that these are Russian territories, and even if the war had not happened, these are historically Russian territories”, he told RIA.
The Syrian dictator also said that Damascus and Moscow plan to sign an agreement on economic cooperation in the coming weeks, generally furthering ties.
In 2015, roughly four years into the ongoing 12-year-long Syrian civil war as the Assad regime was losing significant territory to the opposition, the Russian military intervened at the regime’s request and has, since, had a huge military presence and influence in the country.
Russian military sites in Syria include the Hmeimim Air Base, the Tartus naval facility – its only naval foothold in the Mediterranean – and, more recently, the Al Jarrah military air base in northern Syria, which Russian and Syrian forces had recently restored.