President al-Assad’s Interview with Ria Novosti and Sputnik March 29, 2016

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29-31 March، 2016
Damascus, SANA

Part I: President al-Assad to RIA Novosti and Sputnik: Syria is not prepared for federalism

President Bashar al-Assad said that Syrian-Syrian dialogue in Geneva established the basic principles on which negotiations will be built, and that what was achieved in the first round is the beginning of setting a methodology for successful negotiations.

In an interview given to Russia’s RIA Novosti and Sputnik news agencies, President al-Assad said that political transition means moving from one constitution to another, and that this transitional period should continue under the present constitution, and then move to the next constitution after it is voted on by the Syrian people, adding that talking about a transitional body is illogical and unconstitutional.

His Excellency stressed that the Russian military support, the support of Syria’s friends, and the Syrian military achievements will all lead to accelerating the political solution and not the opposite, asserting that Syria is not prepared for federalism, and that there are no natural factors which might lead to federalism in it, adding “I don’t believe that if it was put to the vote, will be endorsed by the Syrian people.”

The President also said that terrorism in Syria and Iraq is supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and some Western countries like France and Britain, while other countries behave like bystanders and onlookers, affirming that the Western sanctions imposed on Syria are one of the causes of the emigration issue.

Following is the full text of the first part of the interview:

Question 1: A lot is being said about the Syrian refugees. The large majority of refugees in Europe present themselves as Syrians, even Pakistanis do so. According to German figures, 77% of them do not have identification documents. We want to understand how you assess the number of the refugees who were forced to leave the country and why they have fled the country, and the number of those displaced within Syria. We would like to get the figures right concerning this issue.

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President Assad: Of course, there are no accurate figures about those who left Syria or were displaced inside Syria. There are approximate figures, because people move inside Syria without registering themselves as displaced people. They go to villages where they have relatives and live with friends’ families. Most of them come from areas where there are terrorists and move to areas controlled by the state, seeking safety. But I don’t believe that the problem is that of figures. The problem is that up till now, there is no serious action taken by many countries of the world to solve the problem of these people. They deal with the issue of emigration as if it only concerned the outside world. They want to receive them in some European countries, provide them with shelter and aid, and probably send some aid to those displaced inside Syria. This doesn’t solve the problem. The main problem is that of terrorism. That’s why we should fight terrorism on the international level, because terrorism is not related to Syria alone. It exists in Iraq, it is supported directly by Turkey, by the Saudi royal family, and some Western countries like France and Britain. Other countries behave like bystanders and onlookers. They don’t take any serious action. I believe that herein lies the problem, not in the figures themselves.

Question 2: I am sure that you are waiting for Syrians to return to their country. But this will happen after reconstruction. Do you have any estimates of the size of destruction and damage done to Syria during recent years?

President Assad: Economic damage and that related to the infrastructure is over 200 billion dollars. Economic damage can be repaired immediately after things settle down in Syria. But the infrastructure takes a long time. We have started the process of reconstruction even before the crisis has ended in order to alleviate, as much as possible, the impact of the economic damage and the damage to the infrastructure on the Syrian citizen, and at the same time to reduce emigration. Those who would like to come back might do so when they see that there is hope that things will get better. Emigration is not caused only by terrorism and the security situation. It is also caused by the Western sanctions imposed on Syria. Many people emigrated from safe areas which have no terrorism because of the living conditions. People are no longer able to get their needs. That’s why we, as a state, should take actions, albeit initial ones, in order to improve the economic and services conditions in Syria. That is what we are doing concerning reconstruction.

Question 3: Of course, Syria depends on the help of the international community. On whom will you depend in rebuilding your country, and how do you envisage the role of Russian companies and businesses?

President Assad: The reconstruction process is profitable in all cases to the companies which will take part in it, particularly if they could secure loans from the countries which will support them. Of course, we expect in this case that the process will depend on three main countries which supported Syria during this crisis: Russia, China, and Iran. But I believe that many of the countries which were against Syria, and I mean Western countries in the first place, will try to send their companies to be part of this process. But for us in Syria, there is no doubt that the main direction will be toward friendly countries. There is no doubt that if you ask any Syrian citizen about this, his answer will be politically and emotionally that we would welcome companies from these three countries, particularly Russia. And when we talk about the infrastructure, it includes maybe not only tens of areas and specialties, but hundreds. That’s why there will be a very large space for all Russian companies to take part in the process of rebuilding Syria.

Question 4: Mr. President, we move to the political part. How do you evaluate the results of the negotiations which ended last week in Geneva concerning Syria?

President Assad: So far we cannot say that something has been achieved in the Geneva talks, but we have started now with the main things, i.e. laying the basic principles on which negotiations will be built. Any negotiations made without principles will turn into chaotic negotiations which do not produce anything, allow every party to be intransigent, and allow other countries to interfere in an unobjective manner. We have started with a principles paper. Our main work was with Mr. de Mistura, not with the other party we are negotiating with, and we will continue discussions over this paper in the next round. I can say now that what was achieved in the first round is the beginning of setting a methodology for successful negotiations. If we continue with this methodology, the other rounds will be good or productive.

Question 5: I wanted to ask you about that. What are the positions from which Syria will start the next round of negotiations when what is called the political transition will be discussed? And then the issue of a transitional governing body will be raised. What is your take on the mechanism of forming such a body?

President Assad: First, concerning the definition of the transitional period, there’s no definition. We in Syria believe that the concept of political transition means moving from one constitution to another, and the constitution expresses the form of the required political system in the transitional period, so the transitional period should continue under the present constitution, and then move to the next constitution after it is voted on by the Syrian people. Until that time, what we can do, from our perspective in Syria, is that there will be a government. This transitional structure, or transitional form, is a government consisting of the whole spectrum of the Syrian political forces: opposition, independents, the present government, and others. The main objective of this government will be drafting the constitution, putting it to the vote of the Syrians, and then moving to the next constitution. There is nothing, neither in the Syrian constitution nor in any other constitution in the world, called a transitional body. This is illogical and unconstitutional. What are the authorities of this body? How shall it run the daily affairs of the population? Who oversees its performance? Now there is the People’s Assembly (Parliament) and a constitution which rules over the government and the state. That’s why the solution is forming a national unity government which prepares for a new constitution.

Question 6: Here, concerning this government, I wanted to ask you about the mechanism of forming it. Who will appoint it? Shall it be the Parliament elected on April 13th, or you personally? Or are you going to allow an international input in that? How will the government be formed?

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President Assad: This is the objective of Geneva, a Syrian-Syrian dialogue in which we agree to the formation of this government. Of course, we haven’t reached a final conception yet, because the other Syrian parties haven’t agreed to the principle yet. There are those who agreed, but when we all agree to the principle, we will talk about how it will be implemented. It is logical to have independent forces, opposition forces, and forces loyal to the government represented. This is in principle. As to how this will be distributed technically, you know, there are ministries with portfolios, others without portfolios, ministers who will join the state without any experience in government work. How would they run the daily affairs of the population? There are many detailed questions which should be discussed among us in Geneva, but these issues are not complicated. I don’t think they are complicated. All of them are solvable. The People’s Assembly has no role in this process. It is a process conducted between us and the opposition outside Syria. The People’s Assembly oversees the work of the government, but does not appoint the government in Syria.

Question 7: Do you believe that the structure of the next Parliament will be multi-colored?

President Assad: This depends on the electorate in Syria. Will there be new colors in the Syrian society? In other words, it is not sufficient, like what happened in the parliamentary elections in 2000, to have new parties. You can form a hundred parties; but that doesn’t mean that they will all be represented in the elections. What is the form acceptable to the Syrian citizen for him to vote? As you know, these things do not happen quickly. They need time. Every new party needs to prove its point of view and political program to the citizens, and in such difficult circumstances, maybe, people by nature do not want to try a lot of new things. Maybe when the security situation improves, we will see this in a better way. Citizens will have political concerns more than concerns related to living conditions. Today, people think first of all about their lives, about their security, and then about living conditions, their children’s education and about their health. Other concerns come later. That’s why, in the present conditions, I do not expect to see real and radical change.

Question 8: Despite all of that, how would your successes on the ground and the victories of government forces help in the political transition? There are those who believe that this will make your position in the Geneva talks tougher. Would that threaten the political process?

President Assad: This is a very important question, because there are those who accuse us and Russia of that, where Russia’s fight against terrorism is portrayed as supporting the Syrian President or government, and consequently is an obstacle in the face of the political process. That would have been true if we were not flexible from the very beginning, or if we had been really intransigent. But if you go back to the policy of the Syrian state for the past five years, you’ll find that we have responded to all initiatives without exception and from all directions, even when they were not genuine.

Our objective was that we do not want to leave any opportunity untried in order to solve the Syrian crisis. That’s why I can sum up the answer to this point by saying that the Russian military support, the support of Syria’s friends, and the Syrian military achievements will all lead to accelerating the political solution and not the opposite. We haven’t changed our positions, neither before the Russian support nor after it. We went to Geneva, and we are still flexible. But at the same time, these victories will have an impact on the forces and the states which obstruct the solution because these states, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and Britain bet on a failure in the battlefield in order to impose their conditions in the political negotiations. So, these military actions and military progress will lead to accelerating the political solution and not to obstructing it.

Question 9: If we talk about the future, how do you envisage the existence of foreign military bases on Syrian territory in the future? According to what conditions will these bases remain? And does Syria need them?

President Assad: If we talk about the present period, the period of terrorism, yes, we certainly need them, because they are effective in fighting terrorism. Even if the situation in Syria became stable again, from a security perspective, fighting terrorism is not a quick or a transient phase. Terrorism has spread for decades in this region, and it needs a long period of time to fight. This is on the one hand, on the other, this is not related to fighting terrorism alone. It is related to the general international situation. Unfortunately, the West, during the Cold War, after it, and up till now has not changed its policy. It wants to dominate international decision-making. And unfortunately too, the United Nations has not been able to play a role in keeping peace in the world. So, until that time, until the United Nations reclaims its real role, military bases remain necessary for us, for you, for international balance in the world. This is a fact regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it, but for now it remains necessary.

Question 10: About which bases are you talking exactly now?

President Assad: I’m talking about Russia. There are no other states, because our relations with Russia are more than six decades old, and they are based on trust and clarity. Moreover, it is the case because Russia bases its policies on principles, and we base our policies on principles. That’s why when there are Russian military bases in Syria, they do not constitute an occupation. On the contrary, they strengthen our relations and our friendship, and they strengthen security and safety, and this is what we want.

Question 11: Do you envisage, or do you allow Syria to turn into a federal state? If yes, what would be the form of the Kurdish self-rule? How extended would it be?

President Assad: Geographically speaking, Syria is too small for a federal state. It is probably smaller than most of the republics in the Russian Federation. Socially speaking, a federation needs social constituencies which cannot live with each other. This does not exist in Syrian history. In principle, I do not believe that Syria is prepared for federalism. There are no natural factors which might lead to federalism. Ultimately, of course, we as a state say that we agree to whatever the Syrian people agree to. The question of federalism is linked to the constitution, and the constitution needs popular endorsement.

But there is a concept which needs to be corrected in relation to Kurdish federalism. Most Kurds want to live in a unified Syria, under a central system, not in a federal system, in the political sense. So, we shouldn’t confuse some of the Kurds who want a federal system, on the one hand, with all the Kurds on the other. There might be other very small constituencies, not only the Kurds, who seek federalism. But the idea of federalism is not a general proposition in Syria; and I don’t believe that if it was put to the vote, will be endorsed by the Syrian people.

Question 12: But now there is talk about the new constitution. Do you agree that the outline of the new constitution will be ready by August? This is the date set by John Kerry in his talks in the Kremlin; whereas Russia’s position hasn’t been announced yet. This is the position Kerry announced in Moscow.

President Assad: The draft constitution could be prepared in a matter of weeks. The experts are there, and there are propositions which might be collected. What takes time is the discussion. The question is not how long will drafting the constitution take, but what is the political process through which we come to discuss the constitution. We as a state can draft the constitution and put it to the vote. But when we talk about political forces, who are these political forces? We do not know. We put this question to de Mistura. He doesn’t know either. Even the Americans don’t know. The West, or some countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, want to reduce all the other side to the Riyadh opposition, which includes terrorists. So, there should be a single image for the opposition. This doesn’t exist. Then we negotiate with them over a constitution. Other than that, August sounds like a good and sufficient time.


We are prepared to accept any militant willing to drop arms

President Bashar al-Assad said in the second part of the interview he gave to the Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and Spuntik that the Syrian state is prepared to accept any militant who wants to lay down his weapon.

The President made it clear that there is a public opinion in Syria that wants the Russian military support to stop.

He explained that since terrorism, though reduced, is still strong due to its supporters in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others, so, the size of the Russian forces in the country should not be less than the force necessary to fight terrorism.

The Russian presence, he added, is linked to the issue of fighting terrorism, and later to the geopolitical condition in the world.

He also stressed that the issue of holding early presidential elections is up to popular will.

The following is the full text of the second part of the interview:

Question 1: There is talk that some people are calling for early presidential elections in Syria. Are you prepared to go to early presidential elections?

President Assad: This hasn’t been proposed as part of the current political process. What is proposed is that after the constitution, there will be parliamentary elections. These parliamentary elections will show the size of political forces in the country, and consequently a new government will be formed according to the shares of political forces in the new parliament. Presidential elections are a completely different issue. This is linked to the popular situation in Syria. Is there a popular will for early presidential elections? If such will exist, I have no problem. This is natural when it comes in response to popular will, and not in response to some opposition forces. This issue touches every Syrian citizen because every citizen will have a vote concerning this president.

So, in principle, I don’t have a problem, because a president cannot act without popular support. And if such a president has popular support, he should be always prepared for such a step. So, I can say that in principle I don’t have a problem, but in order to take this step, we need the popular opinion in Syria, not the opinion of the government or the president.

Question 2: Nevertheless, Mr. President, the leader’s opinion is important for his people. That’s why I would like to ask you whether you agree to have the president elected by the parliament, as is the case in some countries. Have you reached an agreement for Syrians outside Syria to take part in electing the president? There is a lot of talk about this too. What is the method that you will adopt? What do you think is the most appropriate way for Syria?

President Assad: I think it is better for us in Syria for the president to be elected directly by the citizens and not by parliament. This will free him from the influence of different political forces, and for his relationship to be subject only to the general popular condition. My personal opinion is that this will be better in this case. As to Syrians taking part in the elections, the wider the participation of the Syrians – everyone carrying a Syrian passport and identity card, the more powerful the elections will be through confirming the legitimacy of the state, the president, and the constitution which regulates this process. This includes every Syrian, in or outside Syria. But of course holding the elections outside Syria is a procedural matter and is not discussed as a political principle. Every Syrian citizen everywhere in the world has the right to vote, but we haven’t yet discussed how these elections will be conducted, because the issue of early presidential elections hasn’t been raised to start with. This is linked to the measures which will enable those to come to a voting station overseen by the Syrian state.

Question 3: How do you assess the reconciliation process in the war in Syria? You have a lot of partners. Is it possible that there are groups with whom you are not prepared to discuss the future of Syria under any circumstances? Which groups are these? I would like also to ask about international peacekeeping forces. Are you prepared to accept such forces (UN forces) in order to make reconciliation more enduring?

President Assad: The truce was relatively good, and better than many have expected, because it was expected to fail. We can say that the rate of the success of the truce was good or a little better than good. As you know there were negotiations between the Russians and the Americans in order to identify the terrorist groups, and there was no agreement about these groups. But for us and for the Russian side, we haven’t changed our assessment concerning the terrorist groups. There was a proposal to avoid this pitfall to the effect that every group or organization which accepts the truce and moves towards dialogue, with the Russian side or the Syrian state, will be considered by us to have moved from terrorist action towards political action. This is what we try to achieve.

That’s why I believe that what is more important than classifying terrorist organizations now is to accelerate reconciliation and overreach processes with the militants who want to lay down their weapons or fight against terrorism with the Syrian state and the friends who support the Syrian state, particularly Russia and Iran.

That’s why for us as a state, the general principle is that we are prepared to accept any militant who wants to lay down his weapon, with the objective of bringing conditions back to normality and stop the Syrian bloodshed.

Question 4: What about UN peacekeeping forces? Are you prepared to receive them in order to make this reconciliation more enduring?

President Assad: This is unrealistic, because the work of such forces should be usually based on international agreements, and these agreements should be approved by states. So, what are these states? In this case, there are no states. There is only the Syrian state, as one side, while the other side is not a state but terrorist groups. Can the United Nations sign an agreement with terrorist groups? This is completely illogical.

Even if they wanted to do that, what are these forces? They are unknown and unclear. You are talking about gangs which appear, disappear, merge with each other, and divide again against each other. So, it is an unclear situation. At the same time, from a military perspective, this requires two armies standing on the two sides of the borders with an agreement identifying accurately the geographical positions. All of that doesn’t exist. So, if we agreed and brought in such forces, how would they act? That’s why I say that this is not possible.

Question 5: How do you measure what Russia, and its armed forces, is contributing to the military success in the war against terrorism in Syria?

President Assad: I like to talk about facts on the ground. I might say that there has been a great success; and somebody else might say that there was little success. This differs according to the people involved. But let’s conduct a simple comparison. How was the situation before the Russian intervention, when the Western coalition had been acting on the ground since it was created more than 18 months ago? Terrorism was expanding on a large scale in Syria and Iraq. And how has the position become six months after the Russian intervention? Terrorist forces are retreating, especially IS. So, reality says that the Russians have achieved a great success from our point of view, especially in the military field, in the battlefield, in defeating terrorism, to a great extent. In any case, the battle is not over yet and is still going on.

Question 6: If we go back to the issue of Russian bases, Staffan de Mistura proposed in a plan he presented in Geneva a provision saying that there should be no foreign forces in Syria. Do you believe, for instance, that Syria will need the Hmeimim base permanently?

President Assad: First, inviting foreign forces to a certain state is the right of that state. It is a sovereign right, and it exists in many countries of the world. So, no one can prevent this, unless there was a constitution which spells that out clearly and says that this state is not allowed to invite foreign forces. Such a constitution doesn’t exist now, and I don’t believe there is a public opinion in Syria that wants this Russian support to stop, whether now or in the future, and consequently the departure of Russian forces.

The second point, in the present condition, we are still in the middle of the battle. It’s not over yet. The answer should be about the Hmeimim base, and the size of the forces in it should be proportionate to the size of the tasks these forces carry out and the size of terrorism in Syria. Terrorism is still strong. It is true that we succeeded, with the Russian forces, to reduce the size of the areas in which it exists, but it is still strong and volunteers are still coming from outside Syria. Turkey continues to support terrorism, and so does Saudi Arabia and others. So, the size of the forces on the base should not be less than the force necessary to fight terrorism. After we defeat terrorism completely, there will be a different discussion. I believe that the Russian state itself will reduce the size of the forces which have no tasks to carry out, and there will be a different discussion.

Question 7: But we have already reduced the size of these forces. Nevertheless, for many, the existence of the S-400 anti-aircraft system in Hmeimim is a cause for concern. In your opinion, until when will this system remain? Is there a timeframe? Have you asked Russia to give you this anti-aircraft system?

President Assad: I believe that the parties which are annoyed by the Russian presence are annoyed because the Russian presence is fighting terrorism. Had President Putin decided to send his forces to support the terrorists, they would have applauded him. This is the problem with Western countries. The problem for them is not having a Russian base in this period.

There is also another issue: they don’t want a Russian presence on the international arena, neither politically, nor militarily, nor economically. So, any action taken by the Russian state and Russia, in its real position as a first-class superpower, and not a second-class one, as the Americans want Russia to be, any such act will annoy the West in general. This is why they are annoyed. As to keeping the Russian forces in Syria, as I said before, this is linked to the issue of fighting terrorism, and later to the geopolitical condition in the world.

For us as a small state, and for many other small states, we feel safer and more comfortable when there is international balance. So, when part of this international balance is in the form of military action or military bases, we welcome it because it serves us in the political sense. This is a very important issue for us and for many countries in the world.

Intervention: So, there is no talk about a timeframe for moving the S400 anti-aircraft system to the Syrian army now?

President Assad: No, there’s nothing now. And this is not linked to its being in Lattakia. This has to do with direct contracts between us and the Russian army, procurement contracts.

Question 8: Can we identify the volume of the contracts according to which Russia provides military weapons to Syria and the Syrian Army? What are the newly-signed contracts?

President Assad: In these circumstances, we focus on the weapons we need directly in fighting terrorism. This might be mainly medium and light weapons, and consequently we don’t think it’s necessary now to focus on strategic weapons in this case and in this type of war. As to the volume, in the financial sense, we do not usually announce the volume of such contracts. This remains between the Syrian and Russian armies.

Question 9: Could we move now to a more peaceful subject? How are you preparing for the parliamentary elections on April 13th? Are you comfortable with what’s happening now?

President Assad: The good thing is that after five years of war and attempts to destroy the Syrian state and strike at the structure which basically depends on the constitution, we can, despite all that, carry out constitutional measures. This proves that the state and the entity of the country are still there despite terrorism. The other thing, which is more positive for me personally, is the size of unprecedented participation in the parliamentary elections in Syria. It is the largest in terms of the number of candidates which reached many folds the numbers in previous elections. I believe that this can be attributed to the fact that Syrians still adhere to the constitution and is an expression of their desire to strengthen the legitimacy of their state and their constitution. This is a very powerful popular indicator. Consequently, I can say that in terms of the first and second factors, yes, I am comfortable.

Intervention: Yet, the political process in Syria is taking place under conditions of a land intervention in the country. It might not be a fully-announced intervention, but Turkey is always shelling Syrian territory. Is there a red line after which you lose patience and deal with this as a direct aggression? Is there a red line which is being transgressed by intervening countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia which will force you to take tougher actions?

President Assad: As for Turkey, first, and also for Saudi Arabia, from the first weeks, and probably from the first months of the war on Syria, they transgressed all the red lines. Everything they did from the beginning was an aggression, a political aggression and a military aggression through supporting and arming the terrorists, and an indirect aggression by their artillery shelling and sometimes their military violations.

Intervention: What is Erdogan doing?

President Assad: First, he is supporting terrorists directly. He allows them to move inside Turkey to carry out military exercises with their tanks, and not only as individuals. He provides them with money which comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar through Turkey. He sells the oil stolen by IS. At the same time, he used to fire artillery shells to support the terrorists when the Syrian Army was advancing. He used to send Turkish terrorists to fight with other terrorists in Syria. This continues to happen. The aggression against the Russian aircraft in Syrian airspace was also an aggression against Syria, because that aircraft was in our airspace and consequently under Syrian sovereignty. He has done all these things from the beginning, in addition to his statements which constitute an intervention in internal affairs. Everything Erdogan has done is an aggression in every sense of the word. We can say that we have lost patience and lost hope a long time ago that this person might change. But today, the war against Erdogan and Saudi Arabia takes place through striking at the terrorists, for Erdogan’s army, not the Turkish army, consists of the terrorists fighting in Syria today. When we strike at these terrorists in Syria, this will lead to defeating Erdogan directly. So, our response should be inside Syria first. I believe when we defeat terrorism, the Turkish people is not against Syria, and has no animosity towards Syria, the relations will be good. This is in case Erdogan remained in his place.

Question 10: You visited Moscow last autumn with many issues to be discussed. What are the exact things you and President Putin agreed on? Have you signed any agreements? What are the provisions of your written agreement? Or do you continue to consult with each other based on a private relationship between you, which allows you not to write that down on paper?

President Assad: That visit was conducted in special circumstances. It came a little less than two weeks before the beginning of the Russian support to Syrian forces. So, there’s no doubt that this imposed itself on the visit’s agenda. That was the main subject and the joint vision between President Putin and me about the next stage of fighting terrorism and political action. The visit concentrated solely on these two subjects. There were no agreements, just consultations and dialogue. We focused on two points: first, the military operation which started at that time, and the necessity to strike terrorism. The second point was how to use the military operation in support of the political process. President Putin’s questions were about the same points you raised a short while ago, about our perception of the political process which might start in Geneva or in any other place at that time. These were the only subjects we discussed during that visit.

Question 11: Mr. President, I’m grateful to you for this candid interview. There might be something I should have asked but didn’t, and you might want to add something.

President Assad: First of all, I would like to thank you for visiting Syria in these particular circumstances; and I would like to say that I can convey, through your important media organization, the thanks of every Syrian citizen to every Russian citizen for the support extended by Russia to Syria during the crisis, whether the support was moral, humanitarian, or recently military. Every Russian citizen was a main supporter for President Putin in taking such a decision. Today, despite these difficult circumstances, we experience the joy of reclaiming the city of Palmyra which is part of the human heritage of the whole world. We believe that in addition to the Syrian Army, which was determined to reclaim it, Russia had a major role, in addition to Iran and the other forces fighting with Syria. Once again, I would like to thank every Russian citizen, through you, and to say that the relations we have built over a period of 60 years have become stronger and more solid. And we have a great hope for the Russian role on the global arena, and not only in Syria, in fighting terrorism and restoring balance to global politics. Thank you for coming.

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PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD