Russian President Vladimir Putin held his 14th annual end of the year press conference on December 20 and discussed the recent developments in Syria. The following text was sent out by the Russian embassy:
Question: Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria. He also announced that, in his opinion, the United States defeated ISIS in Syria, he made that very clear?
Vladimir Putin: As concerns the defeat of ISIS, overall I agree with the President of the United States. I already said that we achieved significant progress in the fight against terrorism in that territory and delivered major strikes on ISIS in Syria.
There is a risk of these and similar groups migrating to neighbouring regions and Afghanistan, to other countries, to their home countries, and they are partly returning.
It is a great danger for all of us, including Russia, the United States, Europe, Asian countries, including Central Asia. We know that, we understand the risk fully. Donald is right about that, and I agree with him.
As concerns the withdrawal of American troops, I do not know what that is. The United States have been present in, say, Afghanistan, for how long? Seventeen years, and every year they talk about withdrawing the troops. But they are still there. This is my second point.
Third. So far, we have not seen any evidence of their withdrawal but I suppose it is possible, the more so because we are progressing towards a political settlement. The current issue on the agenda is building a constitutional committee.
By the way, when we met in Istanbul – I mean Russia, Turkey, France and Germany – we agreed to make every possible effort to create this constitutional committee and Russia, for its part, has done everything in its power for this to happen.
As strange as it may seem, we fully agreed on the list of members with President al-Assad, who designated 50 people and was involved in selecting 50 more from civil society. Despite the fact that he is not happy with everything, he agreed with this.
Turkey, which represents the interests of the opposition, also agreed. Iran agreed. We submitted the list to the UN and, as Minister Lavrov reported to me just yesterday, unexpectedly, prompted by our partners – Germany, France and the United States – UN representatives (Mr de Mistura) decided to wait and see.
I do not understand what is going on there but at any rate, I want to believe that this work is in its final stage. Maybe not by the end of this year but in the beginning of the next the list will be agreed and this will open the next stage of the settlement, which will be political settlement.
Is the presence of American troops required there? I do not think it is. However, let us not forget that their presence, the presence of your troops, is illegitimate as it was not approved by a UN Security Council resolution. The military contingent can only be there under a resolution of the UN Security Council or at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government. Russian troops were invited by the Syrian Government. The United States did not get either of these so if they decide to withdraw their troops, it is the right decision.
There is another very important component in this process. Despite all the disagreements, our specialists, our military personnel, security services and foreign ministries have established a rather constructive dialogue to address acute issues in combating terrorism in Syria. Overall, we are satisfied with our cooperation.
Russia also concerned about Israeli airstrikes [Russian embassy text]
On December 25, six F-16 jets of the Israeli Air Force attacked the suburbs of Damascus while being in the Lebanese airspace. The Syrian side suffered material damage, three soldiers were injured. It is noteworthy that 14 of the 16 guided air bombs, launched by the Israelis, were shot down by Syria’s Air Defense.
The airstrikes were once again carried out by Israeli aircraft “under the cover” of civilian planes heading to land at the airports of Damascus and Beirut. We are very concerned with the fact of the attacks, as well as how they were carried out. This is a gross violation of the sovereignty of Syria and the provisions of the resolutions of the UN Security Council, including resolution 1701.