Russia's success in Syria vital for region, says Assad

A damaged building next to a site hit by what activists said were air strikes carried out by the Russian air force in the Syrian town of Ehsim.
A damaged building next to a site hit by what activists said were air strikes carried out by the Russian air force in the Syrian town of Ehsim.PHOTO: REUTERS

Moscow ramps up bombing campaign and challenges West's criticism of its actions

DAMASCUS • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that the success of Russia's military intervention in his war-torn country was vital for the entire Middle East, as Moscow ramped up its bombing campaign yesterday.

Raids against what Moscow says are Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets entered a fifth day despite accusations in the West that the strikes are mainly targeting moderate opponents of the regime.

"The alliance between Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran must succeed, or else the whole region will be destroyed," Mr Assad said in an interview broadcast by Iranian state television. "The chances of success for this coalition are great and not insignificant."

Russia intensified its bombing campaign in Syria, with warplanes flying more than 20 missions, as it challenged the West's distinction between militant and other Islamist rebel groups.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Russia's Western partners had failed to explain the term "moderate opposition" as monitors claimed that Russian jets had bombed two Syrian villages, killing one person.

Mr Putin, who met the French and German leaders in Paris last Friday, "expressed a lively interest in the subject, and asked what the difference between the moderate opposition and the immoderate opposition is", Mr Dmitry Peskov said on television last Saturday. "So far, no one really has managed to explain what the moderate opposition is."

Washington accuses Russia of seeking to buttress Mr Assad, who is blamed for unleashing a conflict that has killed more than 240,000 people over the past four years, and making little distinction between the Western-backed moderate opposition and ISIS fighters.

But Moscow is keen to turn the tables on Washington, suggesting that it is Washington and its allies that often hit the wrong targets.

"He also remembered the wedding in Yemen and so on," Mr Peskov added, referring to Mr Putin's reference to the 130 people killed during the recent bombing of a wedding for which the Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility.

United States President Barack Obama called Russia's intervention a "recipe for disaster", but he also pledged that Washington would not be drawn into a proxy war.

Yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mr Putin's decision "a terrible mistake".

"They are backing the butcher Assad, which is a terrible mistake for them and for the world," Mr Cameron told the BBC.

"It is going to make the region more unstable, it will lead to further radicalisation and increased terrorism," he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned yesterday that Russia's bombing campaign in Syria is a "grave mistake".

"The steps Russia is taking and the bombing campaign in Syria are quite unacceptable to Turkey," Mr Erdogan told reporters. "Unfortunately, Russia is making a grave mistake."

The strikes will "isolate Russia in the region", he predicted.

Amid concern about Russia's intervention, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said military efforts were necessary in Syria, even though they would not put an end to the war there.

She told a German radio station yesterday that she had spoken to Mr Putin on the sidelines of the Paris talks last Friday.

"Regarding Syria, I said for the first time: We will need military efforts, but military efforts will not bring the solution; we need a political process, but that has not really got going very well yet," she said.

Dr Merkel also said that it would be necessary to involve the Assad regime in talks.

Her comments show that support is broadening for military action in Syria and that Mr Assad will need to play a role at the negotiating table in discussions on ending the war.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Russia's success in Syria vital for region, says Assad'. Print Edition | Subscribe