Full Text of Syrian President Bashar Assad's Exclusive Interview to Sputnik

© Sputnik / Press-service of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad / Go to the mediabankSyrian President Bashar al-Assad's interview with Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's interview with Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev - Sputnik International
Syrian President Bashar Assad shared his stance on the country’s future, as well as the ongoing civil war in an exclusive interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency Director General Dmitry Kiselev.

Syrian men walk past a poster bearing a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus, on February 27, 2016, as the first major ceasefire of the five-year war takes hold and an international task force prepares to begin monitoring the landmark truce - Sputnik International
Assad Wants to Go Down in History as Man Who Preserved Syria
- Mr. President, Syria has a very rich history. How do you see your role in the history of your country? How will it, in your opinion, be assessed in the future by historians?

— Concerning the historians and objectivity… We know that history is often written incorrectly and falsified… But if we assume that the produced evaluation is objective and what is written is true, then I can say that the historians and the Syrian people are able to assess best of all…

I cannot assess myself, but I may wish… let's say, to be the first among those who preserved the country in the face of terrorist aggression, which was accompanied by atrocities in their essence and form, unprecedented in recent decades, and maybe even in the past centuries.

Secondly, [to become] the person who preserved the region, based on the fact that Syria is a key state in the region. And if this state were to collapse and there was anarchy, it would affect our entire region, that is for sure. That's how I would like to go down in history.

- What is happening now in Syria, undoubtedly, for the most part, affects the entire world. What kind of advice would you give to the head of a state, if it was in the same situation as Syria is today?

— Firstly, I would not wish on any state, any nation what Syria went through. We had to endure inhumane suffering. However, we live in a world where there is no international law or morality in politics at present. Anything can happen anywhere on our planet.

But what I want to say, based on our experience in Syria, is that, first of all, any manifestation of fanaticism, either religious, political, or obsession with any idea — is destructive for society. It is necessary to avoid fanaticism when building societies.

It is the duty of the state, as well as the responsibility of all the existing elements of society and every citizen’s duty. Another thing is, if this or any other crisis should happen in any country, the first thing any statesman should know is that the people are the country’s defenders. And when choosing a plan of action to resolve the crisis it is necessary that it meets the customs and traditions of the nation, its history and its essential aspirations. The solution cannot come from overseas.

Friends can come to you from abroad to help, as it has happened today: from Russia and Iran. However, if there is no internal will and good relations between the people and the state, it is impossible to find a solution.

The most important lesson we have learned, but I suppose we knew it all along, is that the West is not honest. Western countries are dishonest (insincere). They are pursuing a policy far removed from the principles of international law and the United Nations. It is impossible to rely upon the West to solve any issue. The better friends you have, the quicker and with minimal losses a decision is reached. Therefore, every statesman should be able to choose friendly states that will stand by him during crises.

- Sooner or later, the war will be over… However, the country may emerge from it in various ways, changed, and will no longer be the same again. What will Syria look like after the war? What would you like to see it looking like?

— I think that the changes you are talking began over the past few years. At first, the war was a blow for a large number of Syrians, and led them in very dangerous directions due to the media that invented stories, and due to the inability to comprehend the reality that was obscured.

Today, the picture is clear, and I believe that the change that has come about proceeds from the idea, which I have just mentioned — that, first of all, fanaticism is impossible in a country as diverse as Syria. We have huge diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and communities. For Syria to exist, if we really want it to exist, we should live together with each other, in real love, not in feigned [sentiment]. We are beginning to notice this now in Syrian society. I think that if we are able to overcome this crisis, Syrian society will be improved from a social point of view.

And Syria will be better able play its historic role, which has been peculiar to this region. This role, open to the public, will influence other nations, because it is a single region, the same people with similar traditions. We influence each other as Arab states, as Islamic countries. In this regard, Syria should have a very important role [to play]. As for domestic affairs [of Syria], it will also have a political reflection. There are political parties that will participate, internal interest will supersede and not be blinded by the West. These are the main topics that I see in Syria after the crisis.

- As a politician and as a person, every day you observe, even personally see, how people are dying in your country. Many have been forced to flee, abandon their homes. It is impossible not to be affected by this. How do you react to this like a man? And how can you bear such an important and difficult responsibility? What and who supports you?

— That is absolutely true, we are experiencing this situation every day and every hour, when reports about the killing of an innocent person, or about the injury or death of a soldier in a battle emerge. Regardless of what has caused the death of this person, you, first of all, should think about what has happened… or what their family is going through from an emotional or domestic point of view… or from any other side, since they lived with this person for many years.

This situation has an effect on us Syrians every day and it is very painful, to be honest. But when you hold an important post, you have to turn that emotional side and that pain into work… The main question for a responsible person in office in this situation is what will you do, how can you protect those who did not suffer, those who survived, who may in the near future become victims themselves… Therefore, we see two main points that could lead to tangible results in protecting the country: the first is the fight against terrorism, and that is an axiom, the second is the political work with an aim of stopping what is happening in Syria.

This includes political negotiations, on the one hand, and the negotiations with the militants, who want to return to the bosom of the state and a normal life. In this dimension, we have achieved a lot in the past two years. A major issue in these difficult circumstances remains: where can a person draw strength to endure this pressure? I am speaking, first and foremost, about if you occupy an important post, then your real strength, especially spiritual and physical, comes, primarily, from the people. However, we, as Syrians, both as government officials and citizens, in fact, summon strength from the families of the deceased, the injured in Syria, because they paid the highest price, but at the same time, they are constantly saying they do this for the sake of the homeland. Undoubtedly, it is exactly the spiritual power of these families that allows you to be able to work and continue to act to settle these issues.

Syrian volunteers and their relatives wave the national flag and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as they celebrate at the end of a paramilitary training conducted by the Syrian army in al-Qtaifeh, 50 kms north of the capital Damascus on February 22, 2016 - Sputnik International
Ex-CIA Officer Claims Obama Refused to Approve Covert Plan to Remove Assad
- Right now there is a lot of talk of the Syrian refugees…Most of the refugees heading for Europe present themselves as Syrians, even Pakistanis. According to the estimates of German authorities, 77 percent of them do not have ID documents. I would like to gain an understanding of how you assess the number of refugees who were forced to leave their country and what is the reason for them fleeing Syria? What is the number of internally displaced individuals in Syria itself? I would like to dot all the “i”s in this question.

— Of course, exact numbers of those who have emigrated from Syria, or those who became internally displaced persons within the country itself, do not exist. We can work with only estimated figures, because there are people who migrate inside Syria, but they do not register as displaced individuals.

This category is sent to villages in Syria where they have relatives, there, they register in families that they are staying with. In search of safety, most of these people strive to leave areas controlled by terrorists, heading for areas that are under the control of the government. However, I do not think that the problem lies with the numbers.

The problem is that up until now, many countries have not been conducting serious work on resolving the problem of Syrian refugees. They [these states] are dealing with the problem of immigration as if the problem has to do only with the external aspect. They want to accept refugees in some European countries, providing them with shelter and aid, perhaps they send some kind of aid to internally displaced individuals in Syria. All this is not a solution to the existing problem.

Terrorism — that’s the real problem. We must fight it on the international level, because terrorism affects not only Syria. Terrorism exists in Iraq. It is directly supported by Turkey. It is directly supported by the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia, as well as a number of Western states, especially France and the United Kingdom. As far as other states go, they are watching, observing. No serious work on this issue is being conducted from their side. I think that with regard to this questions, the problem far larger than the problem of the actual figures.

- I am sure that you are waiting for Syrians to return to their homeland, but that will happen after the country’s reconstruction starts. Can you assess the scope of damage and losses that Syria suffered in the past several years?

The economic losses and damages to infrastructure surpass 200 billion dollars. Economic issues can be resolved right when the situation in Syria stabilizes.

But the reconstruction of the infrastructure needs a lot of time. We’ve started infrastructure reconstruction work before the crisis is over, to soften, as much as possible, the influence of economic losses and infrastructure damage on the Syrian people and at the same time reduce the migration flow out of the country. Maybe some will want to return when they see that there is hope for the amelioration of the situation. The cause of migration is not only terrorism and the security situation.

It lies in the blockade, in Western sanctions introduced against Syria. Many people have left safe areas where there is no terrorism because of the life conditions. Citizens can no longer provide themselves with all that is necessary. So we, as a state, must take steps, at least the most basic ones, to improve the economic situation and the service sector in Syria. That’s what we are currently doing in terms of reconstruction.

- Of course, Syria will rely on the help of the international community. Whose help are you going to rely on in restoring the county and what is your perception of the role of Russian companies and Russian business?

— The reconstruction process is in any case profitable for companies that are participating in it, especially if they manage to get loans from the countries that will support them. Of course, we expect that the process will rely on the three main states that have supported Syria during this crisis — that’s Russia, China and Iran.

But I suppose that a lot of countries that were against Syria, I mean first of all Western countries, will try to direct their companies to take part in this process.

However, for us in Syria there is absolutely no doubt that we will ask, first of all, our friendly states. It’s absolutely certain that if you were to pose this question to any Syrian citizen, his answer, political and emotional, would be that we welcome, first of all, the companies from the three countries, primarily from Russia. If we’re speaking of infrastructure, it spans, perhaps not even dozens, but hundreds of different areas and specializations. So I think that Russian companies will have a very broad space for contributing to the restoration of Syria.

Syrian volunteers and their relatives wave the national flag and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as they celebrate at the end of a paramilitary training conducted by the Syrian army in al-Qtaifeh, 50 kms north of the capital Damascus on February 22, 2016 - Sputnik International
Kurdish Representative Says Assad 'Not Ready' for Political Transition
- Mr. President, let’s move on to the political part. How do you assess the results of the Geneva talks on Syria that ended last week?

Of course, we cannot say yet that something was achieved at the Geneva talks, but we started with the main things, namely with working out the main principles that will form the basis of the talks, because any talks without defined principles to rely on become chaotic and cannot lead to anything, leaving room for every party to express stubbornness and allowing other countries to subjectively get involved in them. Right now we’ve started with the document on the principles.

We mostly worked with Mr. De Mistura and not with the opposition that we will hold talks with. We will continue negotiations and dialogue on this document during the next round. Right now I can say that what was achieved in the course of the previous round is the start of the drafting of the course for successful talks, and if we continue along this course, the rest of the rounds will be productive.

- I also wanted to ask you: what are going to be the positions that Syria will be guided by during the next round of talks? When will the so-called political transition be discussed? Will the issue of a transitional authority be brought up and what is your point of view with regard to the mechanism of its formation?

— First of all, regarding the definition of the “transitional period,” such a definition does not exist. We in Syria assume that the term political transition means the transition from one constitution to another, and a constitution is what defines the form of the needed political composition in the next stage. Thus, the transition period must be under the current constitution, and we will move on to the new constitution after the Syrian people vote for it. Before that, what we can work on, as we see it in Syria, is the government. This transitional structure or transitional format is a government formed by various Syrian political forces — opposition, independent, the current government and others.

The main goal of this government is working on a constitution, then presenting it for the Syrians to vote on, and after — a transition to the new constitution. Neither the Syrian constitution, nor the constitution of any other country in the world includes anything that is called a transitional body of power. It’s illogical and unconstitutional. What are the powers of this body?

How will it govern the daily lives of citizens? Who will be assessing it? Today, there is the People’s Council [Syria’s parliament] and the constitution that regulates the work of the government and the state. That’s why a solution is a government of national accord that will prepare a new constitution.

- With regard to that government I would like to ask: what is the mechanism of its formation? Who will appoint it? Can the parliament that will be elected on April 13 do it? Or you personally? Or will you allow international participation in this? How will the government be formed?

— That’s the goal of Geneva — an intra-Syrian dialogue during which we will agree on the format of this government. Of course, we have not yet worked out a final understanding, because other Syrian parties have not yet agreed to this principle. Some have agreed, but we will announce how it will be implemented in practice when we work out this principle all together.

It is logical that independent forces should be represented there, as well as opposition forces and forces loyal to the government. That’s in principle. With regard to how it will be distributed from the technical perspective, as you know, there are ministries with briefcases and without, there are ministers who will join the government without having experience working in it, and how will they resolve the citizens’ daily problems? There are a lot of similar questions that we must discuss in Geneva, but they are not difficult questions. I do not consider them difficult, they can all be resolved. The People’s Council will not play any role in this process, this process will be carried out between us and the opposition from abroad. The People’s Council regulates the work of the government, but in Syria it does not appoint the cabinet of ministers.

- Do you think that new elements [parties] will be presented within the structure of the new parliament?

— It depends on the Syrian voters. Will there be new elements in the Syrian society? It is not enough to just have new parties, like it was during the 2000 parliamentary elections. You can create 100 parties, but that does not mean that they will represent everybody at the elections. Which form will a Syrian citizen approve for going to vote?

This question, as you know, does not get resolved fast. Time is needed for its resolution. Every new party must get its point of view, political program across to the citizens…in such difficult conditions it is possible that citizens, due to their nature, will not want to experience innovations. It is possible that when the security situation improves we will have a more positive perspective on this. Then politics will play a more important role for the citizens, than concerns about the questions of daily life.

Today, citizens are thinking about their security first of all, about the security of their lives, then — about everyday problems, children’s education, health. Only after that they start to think about other issues. That’s why in the current conditions I do not expect that we will become witness to any core, major changes.

Q: Despite this, the political process in Syria is happening amid a ground invasion of the country, possibly an undeclared one. Turkey is constantly shelling Syrian territory. Is there a red line after which your patience will end and you will begin to respond to this as a direct attack? Is there such a red line that certain countries, for example Turkey or Saudi Arabia, can cross in course of their interventions in Syria, that would push you toward more dramatic action?

A: First of all, in regard to Turkey, in regard to Saudi Arabia, they have — possibly from the first weeks of the Syrian war — crossed all possible red lines. Everything they did from the very beginning can be considered aggression. Aggression in a political sense or in a military sense, providing terrorists with arms, or direct aggression with the use of artillery and other military disturbances.

Q: Just what Erdogan is doing.

A: First of all, he directly supports terrorists. He allows them to move into Turkish territory, to carry out maneuvers with tanks. This concerns not only individuals; he finances them [terrorists] through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and through Turkey itself, of course. He trades oil that has been stolen by Daesh, at the same time carrying out artillery attacks against the Syrian army when it moves close in order to help the terrorists. He has sent Turkish militants to fight in Syria, this continues. The attack on a Russian aircraft in Syrian airspace is also aggression against Syria, as the aircraft was in its sovereign airspace.

This has gone on from the very beginning. He also makes statements that constitute interferences in internal affairs. All Erdogan has done is aggression in all senses.

We can say that we have lost patience, we lost hope a long time ago that this person would change. Today, the war against Erdogan and against Saudi Arabia is a war against terrorists. The Turkish army, which is not even Turkish, is Erdogan's army that is fighting today in Syria. They are terrorists and when we attack these terrorists in Syria, this leads to Erdogan's direct defeat. Our response must be, first and foremost, within our own country.

After that, I believe, we will be able to defeat terrorism. The Turkish people is not against Syria, not hostile toward Syria. Relations will be good if Erdogan does not interfere.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais in Damascus, in this handout picture provided by SANA on February 20, 2016 - Sputnik International
Assad Looks Very Confident Ahead From Survival to Recovery - Ex-US Diplomat
- So, we have not talked about the future yet! How do you imagine the presence of foreign bases on the territory of Syria in the future? On what conditions will these bases remain? Does Syria need them?

— If we are talking about the current period…the period of the fight against terrorism, yes, certainly we need their presence, because they are effective in the fight against terrorism even if the situation in Syria stabilizes in terms of security. The process of the fight against terrorism is not something quick and fleeting.

Terrorism has spread in this region over the course of decades and a lot of time will be needed to overcome it. That’s on the one hand, on the other hand they [foreign bases] are linked not only to the fight against terrorism, but also to the international situation as a whole, and, with all due regret, the West, in the course of the Cold War and after it, and even today, has not changed its policy — it wants hegemony in making international decision, and, unfortunately the UN was not able to fulfill the role of a peacekeeper in the world, not even now, in order to regain its true status…

Military bases are necessary for us, for you, for international balance in the world. That’s the truth, whether we agree with it or not, but right now it’s a necessity.

- With regard to the bases: what countries are you talking about right now, exactly?

I am talking just about Russia, there are no other countries. Because with Russia we have relations that are over six decades old, they are built on trust and clarity…

On the other hand, right now, in its policy, Russia is relying on principles, we are also relying on principles. So when Russian military bases appear in Syria, it’s not occupation, on the contrary — it’s the strengthening of friendship and ties, it’s the strengthening of stability and security. And that’s just what we want.

- Can you imagine, or can you see the possibility of Syria turning into a state with a federal structure? If the answer is yes, then in what form should the self-governance of Kurds be presented? What is the scope of their powers?

— From the geographical perspective, Syria is a very small country for federalization to exist in it. It is perhaps smaller than most of Russia’s republics. From the sociological perspective, a federation requires that components of the society are present that may not be able to get along with each other.

This has not happened in the history of Syria, but it’s the main principle. I do not think that Syria is ready for federalization, there are no natural factors for it to be possible. Of course, in the end, as a state, we say that we will agree to everything that the people agree to. The issue of federalization is linked to the constitution, a constitution needs people’s consent, however there is an understanding that a certain change is needed with regard to the Kurds’ federation.

Most of Kurds want to live within a unified Syria, within the framework of centralized power in the political sense, and not federal. We must not confuse Kurds who want a federal regime with all of Kurds. It is possible that there are people — not Kurds, there are few of them in the general scale — who are also striving for this, but the idea is that this proposition has not been put forward by the Syrian society; I do not think that this proposition, in case of it being brought up for a vote, would be approved by the Syrian people.

- However right now there is talk of a new constitution. Can you confirm that the draft of the new constitution will be ready in August? This date was set by John Kerry after talks in the Kremlin. At the same time Russia has not announced its position. That’s the position of Kerry, who announced it in Moscow.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais in Damascus, in this handout picture provided by SANA on February 20, 2016. - Sputnik International
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- A draft version of the constitution will be possibly ready within a few weeks. Experts are present, there are finished proposals that can be assembled together, more time is spent on discussions. A few issues remain, and not with respect to how much time will be spent on formulating the text of the constitution, the question is — what will be the political process that we will use to discuss the constitution.

We, as a state, can work on drafting the text of the constitution and offer it to the citizens, however when we talk about political forces — who are these political forces? We do not know. We pose this question to de Mistura — he does not know. Even American do not know, and sometimes the West. And some countries, especially Saudi Arabia, want to narrow down the other side to just the Riyadh opposition, which includes terrorists, so it is necessary that the opposition appears united, but that’s not the case. When this happens, then we will talk with them about the constitution. In what concerns August, it is a suitable and sufficient time.

- There is talk about a need to hold early presidential elections in Syria. Are you ready for early presidential elections?

— Of course, this was not brought up as part of the current political process. It has been proposed to hold parliamentary elections after the new constitution [has been adopted]. These elections will show the balance of powers on the political arena. Then, a new government will be formed in accordance with the representation of political forces in the new parliament…

As for presidential elections, that is a an entirely different issue.

This depends on the Syrian people’s stance, on whether there is a popular will to hold early presidential elections. If there is such a will, this is not a problem for me. It is natural to respond to the will of the people and not to that of certain opposition forces. This issue concerns every Syrian citizen because every citizen votes for the president. But I have no problem with this in principle, because the president cannot work without people’s support. And if the president is supported by the people, he must always be ready for such a step.

I can say that this is no problem for us in principle. But in order to take such a step, we need the Syrian public opinion, and not the opinion of the government or the president.
Q: At the same time, Mr. President, the leader’s opinion is important for the people! Therefore, I want to ask you if you are ready for the parliament to elect a president, as it is done in some countries? Will you agree to Syrians living abroad taking part in the presidential elections? This is also widely discussed. Which path will you choose? Which path do you believe to be the most suitable for Syria?
A: I believe that people directly electing their president [and not through parliament] is a better option for us in Syria, so that the elections are as free as possible from the influence of various political forces and depend, overall, only on the people’s sentiment. From my point of view, that’s the best option. As for Syrians [taking part] in the elections, the more Syrians participate – anyone who has a Syrian passport or ID – the stronger the elections will be, confirming the legitimacy of the state, the president and the constitution, in accordance to which this process is being carried out. This concerns every Syrian, whether he lives in Syria or abroad. But, of course, the election process outside of Syria is a procedural question; it is not being discussed as a political principle. Every Syrian citizen anywhere in the world has the right to vote. But how these elections will be held is a matter we are not discussing yet, because the issue of early presidential elections has not been raised. But this has to do with procedures that would allow everyone to come to the ballot boxes controlled by the Syrian state.

Q: How do you assess the ceasefire process in Syria? You have acquired many allies… Maybe there are groups that you aren’t ready to discuss Syria’s future with under any circumstances… what are these groups? I also want to ask you about international peacekeeping forces. Are you ready to accept international UN peacekeepers to strengthen the truce?

A: The ceasefire has been relatively successful. In other words, it has been better than many people expected…because it was expected that the truce would fail. We can say that the success of the ceasefire can be assessed as ‘good’ or even a little better than good… As you know, talks were held between the Russian and the American sides on defining terrorist structures, but full mutual understanding on these groups was not achieved.

However, when it comes to us and the Russian side, we have not changed our stance regarding terrorist organizations. But there is a suggestion on how to improve the situation: every organization or group that accepts the ceasefire and agrees to dialogue with the Russian side or the Syrian government – such groups will be considered to have abandoned terrorism in favor of political activity. This is what we are striving for. Therefore, I believe that right now a more important task than defining terrorist organizations is accelerating the reconciliation process, establishing contact with militants who wish to lay down arms or fight against terrorism together with the Syrian state and its friends and supporters, mainly Russia and Iran.

We, as a state, have this common approach: we are ready to accept any militant who is ready to lay down arms in order to bring the situation back to normal course and avoid further bloodshed in Syria.

- What about UN peacekeeping forces? Are you ready to accept them in order to fortify the ceasefire?

— That’s unrealistic, because such forces usually act in accordance with international agreements. Such agreements need to get the approval of states. Which states? In this case, there are no other states. There is only the Syrian state, one country. And the other party is not a state, it’s terrorist groups. How can the UN sign an agreement with terrorist groups? It’s absolutely illogical.

Even if they wanted to go for it, what kind of forces would it be? It’s not known and not clear. We are talking about groups that appear and disappear, unite and fall apart. The situation is unclear. At the same time, from the military perspective, there should be two armies on both sides of the border. There is an agreement that clearly defines the positions in terms of geography…All of that is missing. If we agree and attract these forces, how will they act? That’s why I am saying that it’s impossible.

A Syrian vendor sells mugs bearing portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin (bottom) and Syrian President Bashar Assad (top) in the popular Hamidiyeh market in the old part of the capital Damascus on November 26, 2015 - Sputnik International
Ex-US Amb. Believes Russia is Behind Assad's Willingness to Meet Opposition
- How do you assess the military success that Russia and its Aerospace Forces have achieved in the war against terror in Syria?

— I like to say that the facts are “on the ground.” Maybe I am saying that the success is great, or maybe a person will come who will say that the success is small. The conversation on this subject differs depending on the positions of certain people.

Let’s make a simple comparison. What was the situation like before the operation of Russia’s Aerospace Forces in Syria, when the Western coalition formed over a year and a half ago was acting “on the ground”? Terrorism expanded its presence, occupying most of the territory of Syria and Iraq. And how did the situation change 6 months after the start of the Russian operation in Syria? Terrorist forces began to retreat, especially Daesh. So, the reality itself proves the fact that Russians, in our opinion, have achieved great success, especially in the military sphere, on the battlefield, causing significant damage to terrorism. But in any case the war on terror is not over, it continues.

- Returning to the question of Russian military bases in Syria, Staffan de Mistura included in his plan that he presented at the conclusion of the Geneva talks a certain clause, which says it is necessary not to have the deployment of foreign troops on the territory of Syria. In connection to that, do you think that Syria needs a permanent Hmeimim air base?

— First of all, inviting foreign contingent forces to the territory of a given state is the right of any state. It’s a sovereign right that exists in many countries in the world. So nobody can forbid it except for cases specifically stipulated by a constitution, which says that a state cannot invite foreign military contingent forces to its territory. Such a constitution does not exist right now.

And I do not think that the Syrian public opinion is interested in the Russian support ending right now or in the future, and, as a result, the Russian contingent being withdrawn.
Second point. Under the current circumstances we continue to be in the heart of a battle that is not over yet. The answer has to do with the Hmeymim air base. The number of military servicemen deployed there has to be proportionate and correspond to the tasks that this contingent is carrying out, as well as the level of terrorism spread in Syria.

Terrorism is still strong. It is true that we, together with the Russian forces, have achieved success in the task of reducing the scope of terrorism. Nonetheless, it is still strong: there are volunteers arriving from abroad, Turkey continues to support terrorism, as well as Saudi Arabia and other states. So the contingent deployed there [at Hmeymim] must not be smaller in number than what is necessary for the fight against terrorism. After we completely crush terrorism, the situation will be different. I think that the Russian government will itself reduce the contingent that it will not be using. Then, we’ll have a different conversation.

- However, we have reduced the number of our forces…At the same time, many people are concerned regarding the S-400 air defense system deployed at the Hmeymim airbase. How long do you think this system will remain there? Are there any timeframes? Have you asked Russia to hand this system over to you?

— I think the sides that are concerned about Russian presence are concerned because Russian presence helps fight terrorism. If President Putin had decided to deploy his forces to help terrorists, they would have applauded him. That is the problem with Western countries…

There is another side to this: they don’t want Russia to be present on the international arena neither in the political, military or economic sense. Whatever Russia does proves its position as a top-level power in the world, rather than a secondary power, as the Americans would like to see Russia. Any such move will concern the West.

Regarding the presence of Russian forces in Syria, as I just told you, this has to do with the fight against terrorism, as well as the geopolitical situation in the world. We, as a small country, and like many other small countries, feel peace and security when there is an international [power] balance. And when this international balance manifests as a military operation or military bases, we welcome this, as it benefits us in the political sense. This is a very important issue for us, as well as for many other countries in the world.

- So there is no talk about timeframes in terms of handing over the S-400 to the Syrian army?

— No, there is not at this point. Deciding on such issues has nothing to do with Russian presence in Latakia, these matters can only be solved through contracts between Russia and the Syrian army. Purchase contracts.

- Can you name the contract value of the arms supplied by Russia to Syria, and what kind of weaponry was it? What new contracts have been sealed?

— In these circumstances, we are focusing on the weapons that we specifically need to fight terrorists. These may include medium and light weapons, first and foremost. That’s why, in this situation, and in such wars, we do not see the need to focus on strategic arms so far… As for the cost of the contracts in monetary terms, we traditionally do not disclose the amount of these contracts. It is a matter for the Russian and Syrian armies.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (File) - Sputnik International
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- Now we turn to a more peaceful theme. How are the preparations for the April 13 elections going? Are you happy with what is happening now?

— It’s encouraging that after five years of war and attempts to destroy the Syrian state, attacks on education, which is based fundamentally on the Constitution, we, despite of all this, have been able to hold constitutional procedures. All this confirms the existence of the state and the country in general, despite the presence of terrorism. On the other hand — what most pleases me personally — is the unprecedented rate of participation in the parliamentary elections in Syria, large number of candidates, which exceeds by many times past elections.

The reason, in my opinion, is the loyalty of the Syrians to the Constitution and their desire to strengthen the legitimacy of the state and their Constitution. This is a very strong level of public support. That’s why, with respect to first and the second factors, I can say that yes, I am satisfied.

- You visited Moscow last fall to discuss various issues. What did you agree on with President Putin then? Were any documents signed? What provisions were in the written agreements? Do you continue to consult with each other on the basis of special relations? What allows you not to record this on paper?

— That visit was made in special circumstances. I arrived less than two weeks after Russia began supporting the Syrian army. Of course, this issue was on the agenda of the visit. The main topic was our common vision — my and President Putin’s – of the next stage of the fight against terrorism and political work. The major focus of the visit was given to these topics.

There were no agreements, but the process of consultations and dialogue was taking place. We concentrated on two points: first, on the military operation, which had begun at the time, and as a consequence, the need to strike a blow at terrorism. Secondly, we focused on how we could use the military operation to support the political process. President Putin's questions were about the same points you have just asked me. That is our perception of the political process, which was supposed to begin at that time in Geneva or in some other place. We discussed only these subjects during the visit.

- Mr. President, I am grateful for that candid conversation. Perhaps there is something that I have not asked you, and you want to add something?

- First, I am grateful that you have arrived in Syria exactly at this moment. I want to say that I can, through your important media, convey words of gratitude from every Syrian citizen to every citizen of Russia for the support Russia gave to Syria in this crisis — be it political support, moral, humanitarian, or, more recently –military [support].

The support of each citizen of Russia was the basis for President [Vladimir] Putin making this decision. And today, we, despite the difficult conditions, derive joy from the return of Palmyra, which represents the common heritage of all mankind. We believe that, in addition to the Syrian army, which was strongly determined to return it, Russia played a major role, as well as Iran and other forces, which are fighting side by side with Syria… Once again, through you, we want to thank every citizen of Russia.

We say that what we have achieved in over sixty years [of relations] has been strengthened even more, firmed up… We hope that Russia will play a greater role in the international arena, not only in Syria, but in the fight against terrorism, and the return of balance in politics in the international arena.

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