Assad welcomes new Russian bases in Syria after Putin meeting

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that he would welcome any Russian proposals to set up new military bases and boost troop numbers in the Middle Eastern country, suggesting Moscow’s 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 balance in al-Assad’s favour, ensuring the Syrian leader’s survival despite Western demands that he be toppled.Al-Assad, who met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Wednesday, has supported Moscow’s war in Ukraine and told Russia’s state news agency RIA that Damascus recognises the territories claimed by the Kremlin in Ukraine.

Syria, al-Assad said, would welcome any Russian proposals to set up new military bases and boost Russian troop numbers – and said they need not be temporary.

“We think that expanding the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” al-Assad told RIA 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 bases or increase their number, it is a technical or logistical issue.”

Al-Assad’s years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.

He has retaken territory from the opposition with the help of Russia and Iran, but all three have been accused by human rights groups of war crimes.

Alongside the Hmeimim airbase, from which Russia launches air attacks in support of al-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 defence ministry said in January that Russia and Syria had restored the al-Jarrah military air base in Syria’s north to be jointly used. The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from ISIL (ISIS) fighters in 2017.

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