Syria, Assad meets Putin at the start of the war 12 years ago: “Together against new Nazis”

“Syria supports Russian special military operation”

“I want to take the opportunity of my first visit” to Russia “since the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine to reaffirm the Syrian position in support of this operation against the old and new Nazis”. Thus expressed the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, confirming his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I speak of old and new Nazis because the West accepted the old Nazis on its land and now supports them again,” Assad said, according to statements reported by the Tass agency.

Damascus’ support for Moscow is not only because of the “friendship” between the two countries, but because of an urgent need for “stabilisation” at a global level. “Otherwise – he said – the world would be on the verge of collapse”.

On the day of the 12th anniversary, the Syrian president – seven years after his last visit – flew to Moscow to meet Putin face to face, the man – together with Iranian leaders – to whom he owes his survival, perhaps not just politics. Twelve years have not yet been enough to definitively put behind us a war that will forever remain an open wound for Syria. Rubble, millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, hundreds of thousands of dead, while Unicef ​​counts 13,000 children killed or injured, are the legacy of a conflict now considered ‘frozen’ by many observers despite the still sporadic fighting, especially in the northeast.

2023 could be remembered as the year of the end of Syrian isolation on the international scene. Treated for years as a ‘pariah’ after the devastating earthquake that hit north-western Syria – the only area not in the hands of the Alawite regime – Assad has re-established relations with some of the Arab leaders who for years they had turned away. Like the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, while other countries – see the Emirates – have announced the sending of aid. And there is also the hypothesis of a return of Damascus to the Arab League. A road that now appears to be traced as demonstrated by the arrival in the Syrian capital of a delegation from the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union at the beginning of the month with representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Oman and the Emirates.

Assad’s mission to Moscow has a dual value: on the one hand, to strengthen the alliance with his friend Putin, on the other, to address the issue of relations with Turkey with the head of the Kremlin, as confirmed by spokesman Dmitry Peskov. In fact, for months there have been rumors of a possible meeting between Assad and Erdogan, with Turkey which for years in Damascus was considered one of the main enemies of the region, but with which there could now be a convergence of objectives, see the question Kurdish in the north.

What has been one of the most dramatic wars of the 21st century began as an uprising against the Assad regime in the wake of the events of the so-called Arab Spring, which in 2011 upended the balance in the region. On 15 March 2011, serious rioting broke out in the streets of Daraa, Damascus and Aleppo, with protesters demanding democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners. The protests had been sparked by the arrest and torture of a group of teenagers a few days earlier in the city of Daraa for anti-Assad graffiti.

The anti-government uprising soon took on a revolutionary nature with calls for the end of the regime, but the violent crackdown ordered by Assad turned the insurgency into a civil war. In July 2011, army defectors announced the creation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a rebel group aiming to overthrow the government.

Protests continued in 2012, and in 2013 various rebel and jihadist groups emerged across the country, such as the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) in the north and east, turning what began as a civil war into a proxy war in which there was a latent and undeclared involvement of many regional players.

Several observers believe that Assad and Iran have succeeded in achieving their goals. The Syrian president has managed to regain control over a large part of the territory. The FSA, supported by Turkey and various Gulf countries, was relegated to some localities in the province of Idlib after the battle of Aleppo in 2016. Much more rooted here is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group formerly known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra and which was initially an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization that was part of the very varied armed opposition to Assad.

While Hezbollah seems to have exhausted its task of supporting the regime and returned to Lebanon, in the north we find some cities such as Raqqa, Qamishli and Hasakah in the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (FDS), an alliance created in 2015 with the Kurdish forces as protagonists of the Popular Protection Units (Ypg) and which also includes Arab militias. This alliance is strongly opposed by Turkey, which considers the YPG to be on a par with the PKK and therefore a terrorist organization. On the other hand, Isis survives in some pockets, the organization that from 2104 made the world tremble with its self-proclaimed caliphate, reaching the point of conquering large areas of Syria and Iraq.

Today, Syria is also an economically devastated country. The World Food Program estimates that 90% of the population lives below the poverty line. Prior to the earthquake, the United Nations had reported that 14.6 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance, with 6.9 million internally displaced and over 5.4 million refugees abroad.