On September 30, 2015, the Russian Federation deployed a limited contingent of its Aerospace Forces in Syria, which at the time had turned into the main breeding ground for jihadists, to a considerable extent as a result of foreign interference.
In two years, Russian servicemen, stationed in Syria following a request of assistance from the legitimate government in Damascus, have managed to completely turn the tide in the country. They helped to liberate 85% of the country’s soil, which had been occupied by Islamic State (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations. The legitimate authorities regained control over the cities of Aleppo, Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor.
The Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Navy made it possible to defeat the most of the terrorists’ “army” and destroy their military infrastructure. Approximately 45,000 militants, including over 210 field commanders, about 800 training camps, 550 munition factories and 3,000 units of military equipment were eliminated.
The Russian military operation seriously damaged sources of terrorists’ revenues, severely undermining their capabilities in recruiting new adherents, buying weaponry and disseminating jihadist ideology. The Russian Air Force group in Syria destroyed 300 terrorist-controlled oil fields, pipelines and refineries.
While continuing to combat extremists, Russia has launched the process aimed at promoting a cease-fire between the Syrian government and “moderate” opposition groups. It established the Russian Reconciliation Centre, which operates on the ground in Syria, and initiated a political dialogue mechanism. As a result, there are four de-escalation zones functioning in Syria.
The cease-fire regime entered into force in Syria on December 30, 2016. It does not apply to ISIS or al-Nusra and its accomplices. As of August 2017, approximately 280 armed opposition groups in 2,040 towns and villages had accepted the conditions of the cease-fire.
The people of Syria are finally getting a real chance to lead a peaceful life. However, they are bound to do it among the ruins given that radical Islamists have destroyed or plundered schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure.
Within this context, the main objective of the Russian military in the Syrian Arab Republic is to improve humanitarian situation. Since February 2016, it has carried out about 1,000 independent humanitarian actions, delivering over 2,000 tons of food, medical supplies and essentials to the civilians. Damascus, Aleppo, Afrin and Deir ez-Zor, as well as settlements in Homs and Idlib provinces are only a few of the places where Russian servicemen, at the risk of their lives, distributed humanitarian aid.
I really wish that all those who speak of providing humanitarian assistance to Syria would abandon their discriminatory approach. Residents of areas held by militants are not the only ones who are suffering. A large part of the population resides in the territories liberated from illegal militia groups. Here is a striking example of double standards. Following a period of scrupulous attention to Aleppo in fall 2016, no initiatives to provide help for residents of this city were aired since December of that year, although it was possible to work there almost without risk. Many humanitarian organizations and human rights activists, who had previously allegedly rushed to provide humanitarian aid to Aleppo, completely lost interest in the city after its liberation.
I would also like to draw attention to the role of the Russian military doctors in alleviating suffering of Syrian civilians. During the past year they provided medical aid to 34,000 patients. In Aleppo alone the total number of their patients amounts to 12,500 people.
Russian field engineers put a lot of effort into defusing explosive objects in territories liberated from terrorists. In Aleppo, for instance, they cleared of mines over 250 socially significant facilities, 4,250 buildings in an area of 2,780 hectares, and 709 km. of roads in the cities and its suburbs. Russian sappers neutralized – just imagine – 35,412 high explosives and 20,174 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by terrorists.
Incidentally, in the liberated Aleppo Russian combat engineers discovered sufficient evidence relating to the crimes of the militants formerly called “moderate rebels.” During the mine-clearing operation in the historic part of the city Russian sappers found daisy chains designed to detonate land mines, and discovered many fire extinguishers rigged with explosives. In the residential areas militants had booby-trapped toys with tripwires. The entrances to schools in the al-Qilyas and Suhari districts were planted with pressure-fused mines. Specialists of the International Anti-Mine Center of the Russian Armed Forces discovered 60 male bodies in civilian clothes and handcuffs in the basement of one of the schools. Some of the victims were beheaded. Militants had used another school as a base and workshop for manufacturing IEDs.
Aleppo is just one example out of many demonstrating the work of dedicated Russian sappers in the Syrian Arab Republic. In March-April 2017, a unit of the International Anti-Mine Center numbering 150 servicemen demined Palmyra after it was liberated from ISIS militants. Russian field engineers have managed to conduct mine-clearing operations in the historic city in an area of 1,514 hectares, demining 140 km. of roads and about 2,000 buildings and facilities. They detected and destroyed 6,609 explosives, including 630 IEDs.
In conclusion, it must be emphasized that the final settlement of the crisis in Syria should be agreed upon by the Syrians themselves. This principle is recognized by the relevant UN Security Council decisions, which clearly state that only the Syrian people are to decide on the future of their country, whereas international stakeholders and neighboring countries must seek to make every endeavor to root out terrorist threats and create the most favorable conditions for the Syrians to agree at the negotiating table on what kind of a country they are going to live in.
There are unavoidable criteria for such negotiations, which are enshrined in the UNSC resolutions and reaffirmed in the Geneva negotiations. All ethnic, religious and political groups should be guaranteed equal rights, security and proper participation in the political structure of the society. Syria should uphold its territorial integrity, should be democratic and secular. This is extremely significant since some opposition figures flatly refuse to admit the secular status of the future state.
We should continue the fight against terrorism, among other things by means of creating a broad international coalition against terrorism on a reliable foundation, as was declared by the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly in September 2015.
The author is the Russian ambassador to Israel.