In an interview granted to the journalist Darya Aslamova, for the Russian publication, Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Syrian President denounces media manipulation of the events unfolding in the Middle East and the foreign support that the jihadists are receiving. He goes on to explain the fundamental difference between Russian military deployment in Syria and interference by the West and the Gulf Monarchies. At the same time, President Assad highlights the need for an ideological battle capable of dismantling the oscurantist thinking that is feeding the recruitment of new jihadists.
Komsomolkaya Pravda: The situation in Syira has become more dangerous and unpredictable. Why? Because this conflict is attracting a growing number of participants and actors. For example, who do we now see participating in this war in Syria? Iran, Lebanon (essentially Hezbollah), Russia, Turkey and the enormous US-led coalition. China is [also] showing interest.
Are you worried that this conflict might blow up into a World War III, even if it is not one?
President Bashar al-Assad: To speak on this issue involves speaking about its substance and source: terrorism. It is of scant relevance who intervenes. The most important thing is who supports these terrorists at any given time. That is the main issue. If we were to resolve it, this complicated panorama that you have just described would stop being an unwieldy problem and we could find a solution to it.
So the issue is not the number of countries that are currently intervening but the number of countries supporting the terrorists, because the Russians, Iran and the Hezbollah are our allies and have come here legally. They are helping us against the terrorists. This is the first point: the issue is terrorism, not the number of [intervenors].
Second, what we refer to as a possible “World War Three” – a term frequently used, above all following the recent escalation in Syria–, I would say that what we are currently observing - for some weeks or perhaps months, is more than a Cold War but falling short of a total war. I do not know how to qualify this but it is nothing new because I don’t think that the West, notably the United States, has at any time put an end to its Cold War, not even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes, [the Cold War] still continues.
President Bashar al-Assad: This state of affairs is developing in various stages, and Syria is an important stage. Today we see greater escalation than before but the whole problem consists in maintaining US hegemony over the whole world, preventing any other country from being able to transform itself into an interlocutor on the international scene, be it Russia or even the US’s own allies in the West. This is the essence of what you are describing as a Third World War.
It is world war but is it not a military war; it has a military aspect but terrorism is also an issue. In relation to security, the other aspect is politics. Thus, to some extent you are right. But the war is not limited to Syria. Syria is part of this war.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: But you have said that Syria has converted itself into a stage for this war. Why Syria? What I mean is that, okay, you are a large country, you have oil, but not as much as Saudi Arabia. Why specifically Syria?
President Bashar al-Assad: There are several reasons.
First, if you are speaking about a regional conflict, Syria has good relations with Iran whereas for different reasons, Saudi Arabia was seeking the total destruction [of Iran] on the political level and perhaps, on the material and tangible level. Thus they wanted Syria to give up its solidarity [with Iran] and to destroy it, if it did not do this. Why? Because if Syria broke off ties, Iran could be negatively impacted.
This is how I see it: for Westerners, Syria and Russia have been allies for decades and, in this sense, undermining Syria’s position would have a negative influence for the Russians. But there is another factor that bears on the historic role of Syria, a regional role as a centre of the geopolitical dynamic in the Middle East for centuries. As a consequence, this role taken together with its geographical situation in the Mediterranean ensured that well before the birth of Christ, pharaohs and the Hittites battled to control Syria. Furthermore, socially speaking, on the line where different cultures in the region are in contact, any positive or negative event that affects Syria, affects the whole region. Consequently, while it is a small country, controlling Syria is very important for controlling the rest of the region.
Second: Syria is an independent country and the West does not accept independent countries be it a small country like Syria or a superpower like Russia. What is their issue with Russia? The fact that Russia says “yes” or “no” when they think that it should always say “yes “. This is the problem with the West.
That is my response to your question “Why Syria?”
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Some Western media consider that the war in Syria has been transformed into a direct conflict between Russia and the United States. Do you agree?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, simply on account of what you already said at the beginning on terrorism. Russia wanted to fight terrorism not out of self-interest or for Syria’s sake, but also, in the interest of the rest of the world. The Russians understand what the propogation of terrorism means, while the United States – since Afghanistan at the beginning of the eighties up to now – considers that “terrorism is a card that they can use, a card that they can place on the table…”.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes.
President Bashar al-Assad: …a card that they can keep in their backpocket to pull out at any time. Thus we are talking about two different animals, with different ideologies, behaviour and approaches. This is why it is inevitable that they run into conflict. While they may be engaged in dialogue, they have not found common positions.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Now we have a new player in the region. Agreed? I am referring to the Turkish intervention, that noone is talking about, as if nothing has happened. What are your thoughts on Turkey’s role in this war and its intervention?
President Bashar al-Assad: If we begin with what is happening, it is an invasion.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Invasion!
President Bashar al-Assad: This incursion is an invasion. Thus whether it is a small part or a large part of Syrian territory, it is an invasion that contradicts international law, morality and Syria’s sovereignty.
What are the Turks hoping to achieve with this invasion, apart from what they say to hide their real intentions? They want to make us forget the fact that they have always supported Isis  and Al-Nusra Front.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Do you think that they no longer support them?
President Bashar al-Assad: Clearly they are continuing to support them but [the Turks] entered [Syria] proclaiming: “Let us fight Isis and let us eliminate them.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda: That’s ridiculous. They created Daesh.
President Bashar al-Assad: Of course. They created Daesh. They supported Daesh. They provide it full logistical support; they allow it to sell our oil once it has crossed our borders and passed through Turkey, with the participation of Erdogan’s son and his merry men. They are all involved in the relationship with Daesh. The whole world knows it. But with this invasion, they wanted to modify the Daesh brand, speaking of “new moderate forces” that have the same bases as Daesh and have done nothing else other than replace it. [Why?] So that the Turks can assert that their bombings, their troops and their agents in Syria have enabled them to win in some regions. It is a game, it is nothing but a game against the rest of the world. The next game is continuing to support Al Nusra-Front.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Would [Erdogan] like to support Al Nusra Front?
President Bashar al-Assad: Erdogan, in particular would like a role in the Syrian solution, regardless of what that role might be. He felt isolated this last year because he had supported Daesh.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yet he continues to think that Syria is part of the Ottoman Empire. He considers it part of his territory.
President Bashar al-Assad: Exactly. His ideology is a hybrid of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – violent extremism – and the Empire or the Ottoman Sultanate.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Ambitious, yes.
President Bashar al-Assad: And he thinks that with these two ideologies he can create a hybrid to control this region. This is why he supported the Muslim Brotherhood in all countries including Syria. So yes, you are right.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: After the Turks brought down a Russian plane, Russia broke off relations with Turkey. Now Erdogan has apologized, it seems that he has re-established his friendship, as well as tourism, diplomatic relations and all the rest. Putin had spoken of a “stab in the back”. Do you think that we, the Russians, are perhaps committing an error by trusting [Erdogan] despite his betrayal?
President Bashar al-Assad: No. In fact I consider that this relationship is positive.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: You consider it positive?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, positive. Why?
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Why?
President Bashar al-Assad: We are talking about two very different parties, which, once again, do not share a common perspective. Russia bases its policy on international law, respect for state sovereignty and fears the repercussions of terrorism throughout the world. Turkey [on the other hand] does not respect state sovereignty, bases its policy on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and supports terrorists. The result: a type of polarization – which is what we are witnessing – where each party finds in its extreme opposite the other.
We are saying thanks to this rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, we hold the hope that Russia may modify, at least slightly, the Turkish policy. This is what we hope as Syrians. I am sure that this is the first objective of Russian diplomacy to Turkey, to lessen the damages [inflicted by] the abuse on the part of the Turkish government on Syrian territory. I hope that [the Russians] will be able to convince Erdogan to put an end to supporting and financing terrorists; and to stop terrorists coming across his border.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yet for Erdogan these terrorists are a means of influence. He will never deny them anything because they are his people. If he were to attempt to fight them, they would start to fight against him. I mean that it is a huge risk that he is taking by denying them his support. It is a huge risk for his power.
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes. For this reason I did not say that the Russians are going to succeed in him changing his politics; however, it would be an attempt on their part to reduce the damage. To continue to be honest and realistic, I would say that being an individual affiliated to the violent, extremist and fanaticial ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, [Erdogan] cannot be honest. What you say is entirely realistic and I agree with you 100%. But in any event, we have to seek change. If he were to change 1% that would be good; were he to change 10%, that would be better.
You cannot expect a complete change. We are not hoping for that, especially when it comes to people like Erdogan and those that surround him. But now, even the slightest change in the right direction would be beneficial. It is a hope that I consider sharing with Russian diplomats and I think that the recent rapprochement to the Turkish government shows how wise the Russians are, because they have to maintain good relations with the Turkish people, not because they trust [Erdogan]. To my mind, this appears judicious.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: For me, given Daesh’s ideology, it is very odd that they have never threatened Israel or vice versa. It is as if there is a type of pact of neutrality, not necessarily a bond of friendship. And to what do you attribute the role of Israel in this war?
President Bashar al-Assad: Not only Daesh, not only al-Nusra Front but rather every person or terrorist that has taken up arms and that has committed himself to death and destruction in Syria, has had the support of Israel, also indirectly, through logistical support on the frontier, or at times, with its direct intervention on all fronts. Why? Because Israel is our enemy, because it occupies our lands. And of course, it sees us as the enemy.
The idea is to undermine Syria’s position, by weakening its society, its army and the nation state. This will avoid Israel having to accept the path of peace, given that the price for this peace will be restoring the Golan Heights [to us]. So for the Israelis, the best option is for Syria to focus its energies on other problems so that it is impossible for it to concern itself with Golan, the peace process or any other matter related to the recovery of its lands. This is why Israel supports all terrorists.
There are no contradictions between Israel and organizations such as Daesh, al-Nusra Front and other groups connected to al-Qaeda.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: It is evident that there has been a terrible loss of blood within the Syrian army. However during my stay in Damascus, I have seen many youngsters seated in cafes from morning. When I have asked, “Just who are these youngsters? Why are they not on the front line?”, the response has been, they are students. I have also seen muscular youths working out in gyms. Send them to the front line! What I mean is that I do not understand why you have not decreed a general mobilization, as we did [in Russia] in each of our wars to defend the Homeland. When we were set before an awesome war, we sent all our men to the Front!
President Bashar al-Assad: Let us say that at present, mobilization is only partial. What does this mean? It means that it is not at full capacity because if everyone was on the front line, universities would be empty, schools would not have enough masters, institutions would not function due to a lack of leaders and staff, even lorries and automobiles would be requisitioned by the government and absolutely, the entire country would participate in this war.
This would be fine if this war were to last several weeks or a couple of months. But here we have a war that has already lasted almost 6 years. This would mean the paralysis of the society and the State and in this case you will not be able to win the war. Thus you have to strike a balance between the war and the basket of basic necessities that you must guarantee to the population. Guranteeing this equilibrium is crucial.
This is our opinion on the matter.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: I do not understand Arabic but when I watching TV programmes, I get the impression that I am in a country at peace: a bit of war before moving on to sport, children, the school… I see this and say to myself “Lord have mercy” when I hear bombshells exploding in the city as if nothing was happening. Perhaps it is not too much? If it is necessary to bring to life the people’s patriotism, you would need to explain to them every day: “we are before a great war!”. This is what all countries do in such circumstances. I do not like this image of a tranquill life. You do not find it here!
President Bashar al-Assad: The measures we are taking are not divorced from what is happening. But I repeat, you have to strike a certain balance between the war and the need to live a relatively, not completely, normal life. This balance is necessary.
As for the means, of course you take a different position, given that it is a personal perception of what you hear and what you are experiencing.
We hear what you are saying in Syria: “But, how is it possible that they behave like that?”. But when the media talks constantly about the war, then they say: “there is more to life than war. We need a normal life; life must go on.”
It is a difficult balance to strike and, finally, the key challenge is not the war but how to live from one day to the next. If you do not try to live this life, then the terrorists have won because that is what they want.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: We [Russians] experienced this through the Great Patriotic War. The cities were empty, only women, some doctors and teachers remained. But the whole world was on the front. I can cite the example of my family, with four brothers and my father on the front, after leaving school at 13 and having worked in a factory manufacturing bombs. That was normal! Thus we would never have won the war had we not sent all our men to the front.
President Bashar al-Assad: Sure, but war is not only a military issue it is a cluster of issues. The most important thing in our war is not only the struggle against terrorists given that we have a parallel fight that is just as important: the battle over our economy. We are under an embargo and we have to do everything possible to ensure that the wheel of the economy does not grind to a halt.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Understood.
President Bashar al-Assad: Then the need for permanent efforts to continue living despite everything. Without a normal life, you cannot guarantee the economy because if everyone stayed at home to live as a warrior, we would not produce anything.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Why did you not ask for Russia’s help until the most critical time, when almost everything was on the point of breaking down and your life was even in danger?
President Bashar al-Assad: Above all, there is a traditional relationship between Syria and Russia and even in the worst moments of this relationship, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, this relationship continues to be good and never turned sour.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: This is exactly why you coud have asked for help much earlier on.
President Bashar al-Assad: We asked for help right from the beginning. But the scale had not reach the level observed last year. Before that time, the Syrian army had advanced and our enemies, let us call them thus, by checking our advance, began to send an increasing number of foreign terrorists from more than 100 countries. Iran and the Hezbollah intervened but the intervention of a great power in the form of Russia been indispensable for changing the dynamics on the ground. This is why it was natural for us to ask for Russia’s help.
But, before its direct intervention, Russia was already helping us by providing us with all the logistical support that we needed to face this war. Russians living among us and Russian experts present in Russia for four decades, confirmed during 2014 that the balance was beginning to shift in favour of the terrorists, supported by the West and countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The Russians were prepared to intervene directly. So of course we invite them because we trust them. We have faith in them because their politics is based on putting morality ahead of self-interest. We trust them because we know that they have supported us to put an end to the terrorists, not for a quid pro quo.
Of course, till now, they have never asked us for anything. All these factors together have spurred us, the government and the [Syrian] institutions, to ask Russia to help us.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Prior to this so-called revolution, I am sure that you received some offers and proposals for contracts from your current enemies. What would they want? For instance, I heard that Quatar wanted to make a “pipeline” pass through Syria. Is that right? Did you receive this type of offer before [the war]?
President Bashar al-Assad: Proposals continued to flow after the crisis.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Ah! Of course.
President Bashar al-Assad: Why did they want to exploit the crisis: “If you do this, we help you.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda: But what did you want?
President Bashar al-Assad: There were no offers before the crisis, only attempts to use Syria indirectly against Iran. At that time, the issue of the Iranian nuclear research was the most important global issue and Syria had to convince Iran to act against its own interests. France tried and Saudi Arabia also tried to distance us [from Iran], for no other reason than their hatred for Iran.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: And what happened with the gas pipeline that they wanted to pass through Syria?
President Bashar al-Assad: This was not discussed. This is because Syria was called to transform itself taking a mandatory step on energy matters in general. There was going to be a “pipeline” coming from the East, that would follow the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Mediterranean route, and another that would come from the Gulf and would end up in Europe. I do not believe that the West accepts that this Syria, that refuses to be its puppet, can benefit in this way. This is not allowed. Therefore, we think that this gas pipeline is one of the issues on which there was never frank discussion. From [the beginning of the crisis], the offer came directly from the Saudis, “if you”…
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Directly from whom?
President Bashar al-Assad: From the Saudis: “If you distance yourself from Iran and publicly announce that you are interrupting all types of relations with this country, we will help you”. Very simple and directly to the point.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: You said in an interview that this war was difficult because “it is easy to kill terrorists but more difficult to do away with their ideology”. When I talked to officials on the front, they told me, “how do you conquer someone who does not fear death?” For these people, dying is simply a pleasure because there are 72 virgins awaiting each man in Paradise. In contrast, normal folk baulk at the thought of death. This ensures that terrorists maintain a high morale. How to end this ideology?
President Bashar al-Assad: You are right to mention these “ideologized fighters”, those terrorists that struggle against our army. The only way to fight them is to eliminate them. There is no other solution. They do not accept dialogue nor do we have the chance to talk to them. We have to protect our fellow citizens and the only way to do so is to eliminate the terrorists. But it is not enough because they replicate just like in video games. You kill one and another 10 appear. It’s a vicious circle. So the most important thing is to also fight them on the ideological plane but with moderation.
What I mean is that you can ony fight Islamic extremisim with another ideology which is moderate Islam. It is the only way, but it requires time. It is necessary to work with the young generation and at the same time to work on methods to prevent funding coming in from the Saudi government, NGOs and Saudi institutions. [They are providing] [funding] directed to promoting the ideology of Wahabism all over the world.
You cannot say that you are going to fight this ideology and, at the same time, allow their sheiks or imams and their Islamic schools to promote this obscurantist ideology. This cannot be so yet this is what is happening in Europe. We are talking here of the third or fourth generation that is living in Europe that is now is sending them to us. They have never lived in our region, they do not speak Arabic and perhaps they do not even read the Koran. Yet they are extremists because the ideology of Wahabism was allowed to infiltrate Europe.
What I am trying to say is that we have to deal with several challenges at the same time, to deal with the press and face a powerful media financed by the oil dollars of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States that continue promoting this extremism. It is the only way to beat them. So yes, we have to deal with terrorists but that is not the solution.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes but I always perceived something mystical in this fight for Damascus and then I understood why so many mercenaries are coming here. A professor of Islamic theology explained to me that they sincerely believe in certain Koranic texts on the city of Dabiq, where the Apocalypse and the final battle between Good and Evil would take place. This is why they come. For example when I was in Bosnia, I heard many foreign mercenaries proclaiming: “Let us go to Dabiq!”. For them, this has a mystical feel. How do you get rid of it? I cannot imagine how.
President Bashar al-Assad: That’s right.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Because there is massive propaganda proclaiming: “Go to Dabiq! Go to Syria because that is the site of the Apocalypse!”
President Bashar al-Assad: Today it is [for them] a sacred place to fight…
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes, it is like a sacred place.
President Bashar al-Assad: …Meaning that if you want to go to heaven, you have to pass through Syria. If you die anywhere else, you do not go to Paradise. This is part of their ideology. For this reason….
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Do they really believe that dying in Syria will guarantee their direct path to Paradise?
President Bashar al-Assad: So they reason. For example, some think that killing more innocent people, would secure for them the right to an Iftar [the meal to break the fast] with the Prophet. They are completely brainwashed so you cannot even criticise them. They are ignorant and the majority are adolescents that have been manipulated.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes, sometimes they are children.
President Assad: Exactly. But this is to do with the machine that has been working for decades to brainwash them and to popularize this extremism in the Islamic world and in Islamic communities outside the Muslim world.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Are you satisfied with the results of the Russian intervention this year? Have the Russians really achieved something here?
President Bashar al-Assad: Briefly, before this [Russian] intervention, and despite the actions of the so called “US coalition” - which seems to me to be a sham of an alliance–, Daesh and al-Nusra Front were expanding, they were receiving a growing number of recruits and arms and they were carrying away our oil to Turkey, etc.
After the Russian intervention, the territories under terrorist control decreased. As a result, the reality on the ground speaks for itself. The principal effect of the Russian intervention was that it changed the equilibrium shifting it against the terrorists. Any other effect is irrelevant.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: On the Kurdish issue, I was in Qamishi and there they told me that they wanted a federation: “Our model of the Ideal State is Russia. Russia brings together a number of nationalities and is a federation. Why can’t Syria be a federation?”. And, honestly, among Syrian kurds noone has spoken to me about secession or an independent State. But they have told me: “We want to stay in Syria but we want our autonomy.” Do you agree with this? Since they are fighting hard against Daesh.
President Bashar al-Assad: Let me clarify various aspects of this issue. To begin with, in Syria, we do not speak of such a community wanting this or that, be they Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Chechens, Armenians or any other community that weaves into the fabric of our people. In this case in particular, we are speaking of a group among the Kurds (only a part) that asks this while the majority of them do not express this demand. They never …
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Of course, I am not speaking about the Kurds in Damascus. They are living here.
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, what I mean is that even in the North, only a part [of the Kurds] are voicing this [request].
Second, when you speak of federalism or any other system, this must be enshrined in the [Constitution], which is not government property but reflects the will of the Syrian people. Consequently, if they need such a political system in Syria, they have to promote it among the Syrian people. There is no point coming to discuss it with me. While I, in my capacity as President, the government or an official might say, “yes, it is a good idea, I do not have objections”, I could not, in any event, cater to them because I am not the overlord of Syria’s political system. Everything would have to be …
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Be done by a referendum?
President Bashar al-Assad: That’s right, a referendum where the Syrian people would say “yes” or “no”. In addition – leaving out of the equation the fact that most Kurds in Syria are not asking for a federation–another fact is that most people living in the North of Syria are Arab. Then, even if some Kurds want a federal system in the North, how could you conceive a Kurdish federalism in a region of Arab majority.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: But did you have contact with them?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, of course. We are speaking and negotiating with them. Always we are…
Komsomolskaya Pravda: “Are you negotiating with them?”
President Bashar al-Assad: Of course and on a permanent basis. We are also supporting them against Daesh by sending them arms. Our army is aware of all the details.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Honestly, during my journeys within this country, I have not seen an armed opposition that is not armed. I mean, with whom can you engage in dialogue? Do you have genuine interlocutors with whom to develop negotiations or is this a “mission impossible”?
President Bashar al-Assad: This is a very important question but you should define the term “opposition” as it is currently used in all parts of the world to refer to people that are armed and kill people. We cannot speak about this people as “the opposition” given that it is a political and not a military term.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes, this is the problem and the entire world is armed? With whom to speak?
President Bashar al-Assad: Exactly my point. Now, if you want to speak about the political opposition, you have to cite names, movements and political movements.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: What movements? What names?
President Bashar al-Assad: There are a number of parties, created before or after the crisis whose representatives are not necessarily members of Parliament. I cannot cite names but we can provide you with a complete list, including parties of the most recent opposition. As for the negotiations, the crux of the question that you have put to me is not knowing with whom to negotiate but who has sufficient influence to be able to influence the situation on the ground.
It is as if I were to sit down to converse with all these oppositional organizations – be they internal, external or connected to other countries and not the Syrian people – and reached an agreement with them that “this is good for the future of Syria”. Which of these organizations could influence the terrorists that operate on the terrain?
We know that the majority of these terrorists have links to al-Qaeda, Daesh, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Cham and other organizations that are terrorist in nature that do not belong to any political movement; their sole concern is their own ideology, the ideology of Wahhabism. Consequently, even if we negotiate with the political opposition, we do not change the situation on the ground. You are right. With whom am I going to be able to negotiate?
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Yes, with whom?
President Bashar al-Assad: The most important thing is [with] someone that can change the situation. Being at the head of the government, I have resources at my disposition. We are able to act. We fight the terrorists. The question is what can the inclinations of the opposition result in? I cannot respond to this question. They have to respond to it. They have to say, “we can do this [but] we cannot do this”.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: All the Western mass media has information on the situation in Syria from this strange organization called “the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights”. But if my understanding is correct, it consists of only one person.
President Bashar al-Assad: A man that lives in London.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: For me this is incomprehensible. I was gobsmacked when I found this out. How can they trust only one person as the single source of information?
President Bashar al-Assad: This is what Westerners want. They are not interested in what is actually happening. The only thing they need is someone that is divulging information compatible with their agenda, information that they are going to promote as the real facts. As you know, most in the West have been brainwashed on events in Syria and probably on what is happening in Ukraine. What I mean is that they are doing the same thing against Russia. They have tried – with success – to brainwash public opinion, and that is not their only tool. They have many more [tools], such as the “White Helmets” which have now entered the scene.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: “What is this? Who are they?”
President Bashar al-Assad: In actual fact, [the “White Helmets”] work with the al-Nusra Front in the zones that the latter controls. How can you work in these areas if you are not under the control of al-Nusra Front? And more important still, many of its members appear in photos and videos [of the “White Helmets”], trampling on the bodies of Syrian soldiers, to fete their death…
Komsomolskaya Pravda: This happened not so long ago. Are you referring to what happened immediately after the US air bombing against the Syrian Arab Army?
President Bashar al-Assad: Not only to this case but to others in other parts of Aleppo.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: In different areas?
President Bashar al-Assad: In Aleppo, the “White Helmets”, together with al-Nusra Front, have been photographed trampling the bodies of the Syrian soldiers in different battles. Thus al-Nusra now acts as a new cover to these “White Helmets”, that supposedly are sacrificing themselves to help the rest and especially the children. It is an image aimed at manipulating the sentiments of Western public opinion.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Noone knows where these photos had been taken?
President Bashar al-Assad: No. They do not verify anything, it is not important for them. Of course, you can find anything on the Internet, but you can never verify anything. All one can do is to look and become emotional because, in the case of Syria, everything is black or white: the good guys are fighting the evil Syrian army, the evil president, the evil government or the evil officials. This is the only image that they want to show to convince public opinion that they have to maintain the pressure or that they support the good Syrian people against its evil government, and so on. You know this propaganda.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: From a strategic angle what will the liberation of Aleppo bring you?
President Bashar al-Assad: For us, Aleppo is the twin sister of Damascus. It is the second largest city in Syria and whereas Damascus is the political capital, Aleppo is its industrial capital.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: But currently there are no industries there. I was there and everything has been destroyed.
President Bashar al-Assad: That’s right. Most of the factories in Aleppo have shut down. They were dismantled and the machines were taken to Turkey.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: If you take Aleppo, how will this change the war?
President Bashar al-Assad: It is the second…
Komsomolskaya Pravda: It is the second city but you cannot separate Al-Nusra Front from …
President Bashar al-Assad: First, and above all, it will be a positive outcome at three levels: the political, strategic and national. Furthermore, the issue is not simply to isolate Al-Nusra Front: for as Aleppo is a big city – it will also be – on the strategic and military level - a launching pad for other zones invaded by the terrorists. This is why liberating Aleppo is so important at this time.
- Komsomolskaya Pravda: Clearly it is an operation for freedom. But what is the next step? How will you cut the communication between Turkey and Idlib? Because Idlib is the principal source of everthing: money and fighters etc.
President Bashar al-Assad: This is not possible because Idlib is practically on the Syrian-Turkish border. It is necessary to cleanse and continue the cleansing to expel the terrorists to Turkey so that they return to the place from where they came. And if not, we have to eliminate them. There is no other option. But Aleppo will be a very important launching pad to implement this action.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Approximately how many foreign mercenaries have passed through Syria over these past five years?
President Bashar al-Assad: Noone can count them because clearly, they do not cross our borders legally. One estimate from a German research centre published some weeks ago, talks of hundreds of thousands of terrorists.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Hundreds of thousands?
President Bashar al-Assad: Hundreds of thousands. They speak of more than 300, 000 which is …
Komsomolskaya Pravda: More than 300, 000 terrorists?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes. I do not know if this estimate is correct but even if it were only 100,000 that would also constitute an army, a whole army.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: It is an army, a real army.
President Bashar al-Assad: Exactly. Although they are being eliminated, recruitment from abroad continues. Thus we are talking of hundreds of thousands of terrorists coming from different countries all over the world. This is a live issue, because hundreds of thousands of terrorists throughout the world have adopted the same ideology, the ideology of Wahabism. It is very real. It is no exaggeration.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: In 2012 I was able to chat in Istanbul with young people, part of the Syrian opposition. They were telling me: “we want human rights, we want human rights” They were secular, normal, without beards and, incidentally, they were drinking beer in the middle of Ramadan. But within only a few years they were converted into fanatics. This appears to me to be bizarre because they were secular. Furthermore, who is leading Daesh? The former colonels and former commanders of the army of Saddam Hussein, as well as secular folk. How were they converted into an army of fanatics?
President Bashar al-Assad: This is partly due to what happened in Iraq after the 2003 invasion when the US army and people from the US were controlling the entire country, including the prisons. The Head of Daesh and most of those surrounding him were in the same jail. Daesh was established in Iraq under US supervision.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Perhaps it was not ISIL  at that time but al-Qaeda?
President Bashar al-Assad: No, it was still not ISIL but it was already ISI: the Islamic State of Iraq”.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: The Islamic State?
President Bashar al-Assad: Because at that time it had no presence in Syria. This was in 2006.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: In 2006?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes, in 2006.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: The Islamic State already in 2006?
President Bashar al-Assad: This is, in 2006 and of course, before US withdrawal. Thus the US played a direct role or at least an indirect role in creating Daesh.
Furthermore in Syria, they entered before anyone had been heard speaking about al Nusra Front or ISIL. They were called “The Free Army”, a secular force that was fighting against the Syrian Government and against the Syrian army. In fact, if you look on the internet, you will be able to check, through photos and videos, that the beheadings began from the first weeks [of the crisis]. Elseput, this movement demonstrated from the beginning what was extremism, but they chose to call it “the Free Syrian Army”!
When it was made impossible to continue to hide the constant stream of beheadings, they had to confess that it was al Nusra Front. But in actual fact, the Free Syrian Army, al Nusra and Daesh have the same base.
These are individuals that have moved from one region to another for different reasons. One is the ideology; the second is a fear of being killed if they stay in the same place; the third is financial, as Isil used to offer the highest salaries. Even before that time, many members of al-Nusra Front and the Free Syria Army switched to ISIL for money. What I mean is that there are different factors but the base …
Komsomolskaya Pravda: And the fanaticism?
President Bashar al-Assad: It is always the same base. The extremist base is a common factor for all these different denominations and organizations.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Can I ask you a personal question?
President Bashar al-Assad: Yes of course.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: In 2013, your life was in grave danger and the United States was on the verge of bombing Syria. Why did you not send your family to a safe haven?
President Bashar al-Assad: How could I convince the Syrians to remain in the country if I was sending my own family out of the country? You cannot do this. As President, you have to lead by example when our Fatherland is at stake. You have to be the first in line… you and your family, your staff and all members of your government. You cannot convince the people that they have to defend the country if you yourself do not trust the army to defend your family
Komsomolskaya Pravda: I understand.
President Bashar al-Assad: It was natural. In actual fact, we have never felt the need to reflect upon this.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Thank you very much for this interview.
President Bashar al-Assad: Thank you for coming to Syria.