AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al Assad said the continued presence of Russia’s major naval and air bases in his country help counter the influence of Western powers in the region as the battle to crush insurgents was winding down.
In an interview with Russia’s Ministry of Defense TV channel Zvezda on the fifth anniversary of Moscow’s intervention in Syria that tipped the conflict in his favor, Assad said Russia’s two main bases were important to counter the West’s military presence in the region.
“This global military balance needs Russia’s role ..this needs (military) bases..we benefit from this,” Assad said adding Syria needed such a presence that his military commanders say countered Washington’s dominance in the region.
Alongside the Hmeimim base, from which Russia launches air strikes in support of 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 launched air strikes in Syria in 2015 and began cementing its permanent military presence in 2017, following a deal with the government in Damascus.
A Russian government document published last August showed that Syrian authorities have agreed to give Russia additional land and coastal waters in order to expand its military air base at Hmeimim.
Assad said his army, before Moscow’s military intervention, had been facing a “dangerous situation” with an armed opposition directly funded and equipped by Washington and other Western powers, alongside Saudi Arabia and Qatar who had seized main cities and towns.
Assad has been able with Moscow’s massive aerial power and Iranian-backed militias’ support to regain most of the territory he lost in a decade long conflict.
Washington and backers of the Syrian opposition say the Russian and Syrian bombing of opposition-held areas amounted to war crimes and were responsible for the displacement of millions and the death of thousands of civilians.
Moscow and Damascus deny indiscriminate bombing of civilians and say they are fighting to rid the country of Islamist militants.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Michael Perry