Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) has lost about a quarter of its territorial gains in Syria and Iraq in 2016; for its part, al-Nusra Front, also known as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, maintains control over just 10-12 percent of the Syrian territory, Russian Ambassador to Syria Alexander Kinshchak told Sputnik.
Daesh, Al-Nusra Front Suffer Severe Losses
"Over the last year and a half, a steady tendency has emerged for the illegal armed formations to lose their territories [in Syria] due to successes of the Syrian [Arab] Army which receives efficient support from the Russian Aerospace Forces. While in 2015 al-Nusra Front and its allies help sway over one fifth of Syria, it now holds no more than 10-12 percent of the country," Kinshchak said, stressing that most of al-Nusra Front militants are now located in the Syrian province of Idlib.
"The area seems to be small but the significance of this victory [in Aleppo] cannot be overestimated," Kinshchak said, "I believe it could be compared to the defeat of the Nazis in Stalingrad."
Similarly, Daesh suffers losses in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian diplomat underscored that by 2017 the terrorist group had lost about a quarter of its territories: the total area under Daesh's control has diminished from 78 thousand square kilometers (30.11 sq. mi) to 60.4 thousand sq. km (23.32 sq. mi).
The Russian ambassador noted that although Daesh still controls large areas in Syria, these are mostly deserts. Furthermore, almost everywhere in Syria the terrorists have been forced onto the defensive.
"According to some estimates, at the moment the legitimate [Syrian] government controls about 35 percent of the country's territory. It's worth mentioning that these are mostly large cities and densely populated areas, which are home to over 10 million people — the majority of Syria's population," Kinshchak underscored.
Will Donald Trump Team Up With Moscow, Damascus in Syria?
Speaking to Sputnik, the Russian diplomat also shared his views regarding the prospects of Russo-American and Syrian-American collaboration in the fight against Islamic extremists.
Kinshak called attention to the fact the Trump administration's Middle Eastern policy has yet to take shape.
"It is encouraging to see that the new US President has publicly emphasized the task of defeating Daesh and other terrorist groups on the ground as one of his foreign policy priorities. However, an 'undated' version of the US foreign strategy has yet to be made public," the diplomat noted.
In this respect it is too early to evaluate the possibility of US-Russia and US-Damascus coordination in the fight against terrorism in the region, he added.
"There is no certainty that the Americans are ready for this," the diplomat remarked.
Following Trump's win in the US presidential election in November 2016, Assad stressed that Trump could become Syria's natural ally if he delivers on his election promise to defeat Daesh.
"So, we cannot tell anything about what he's [Trump] going to do, but if… he is going to fight the terrorists, of course we are going to be ally, natural ally in that regard with the Russian, with the Iranian, with many other countries who wanted to defeat the terrorists," Assad told Portuguese television broadcaster RTP.
Speaking to Belgian journalists in February 2017, Assad reiterated that he believes that the potential military cooperation between Washington and Moscow in the region would be "positive for the rest of the world, including Syria."
Still, the Syrian President remarked that it was too early to make any predictions.
"I think this is promising, we have to wait, it's still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it's still early to judge it," he said as quoted by SANA.
According to Kinshchak, Damascus hopes that Washington will correct the previous administration's policy aimed at supporting the "irreconcilable" opposition in Syria.
"It is obvious: you cannot effectively tackle the terror threat at the same time continuing to play dangerous games with radicals from Syria's "irreconcilable" opposition, providing jihadists with money and weapons," the Russian diplomat pointed out.
'Local Peace Deals': Damascus Makes Efforts to De-Escalate Conflict
Commenting on Damascus's counterterrorism efforts, the Russian diplomat highlighted that at the same time the Syrian government tries to diminish hostilities on the ground through local peace deals.
The Syrian government's practice is aimed at restoring peace and order in the country's regions by allowing the "irreconcilable" opposition to flee to Idlib. Those who voluntarily lay down arms are granted amnesty by Damascus.
Kinshchak stressed that such a practice let the Syrian government to de-escalate the conflict in the country step by step.
"As practice showed, the order and normal life have been immediately restored in these pacified regions, allowing [Syrian] refugees to return home," he said.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham: New Terrorist Coalition Emerges in Idlib, Hama
However, the Russian diplomat admitted that much remains to be done in Syria to tackle the terror threat.
Kinshchak revealed that currently in the provinces of Idlib and Hama Islamist insurgents are busy creating yet another large coalition of jihadist groups under the banner of the "Organization for the Liberation of the Levant," also known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
This organization was founded on January 28 by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and its allies.
Kinshchak noted that the group has been spotted targeting former Islamist fighters who struck an agreement with the Syrian legitimate government and joined the peace negotiations.
"Time will tell what this enmity among the illegal armed groups will result in. In any event, I am convinced that the Syrian [Arab] Army supported by its allies, including Russia's Aerospace Forces, will continue to fight back and will inflict a crushing defeat on the terrorists," he said.