Russia calls on West to drop demands for Assad exit

Russia increases pressure on West to back down from demands for Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to resign amid renewed efforts to unite against DAESH

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on Western leaders to cease in their demands for Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to step down if they are truly interested in forming a united global front against the DAESH terrorist group.

Speaking on Wednesday, Lavrov said he hoped the West would put the fate of Assad “to one side” in order to resolve on battle against the DAESH terrorist group, which since 2013 has seized swathes of land across Syria and Iraq.

"I hope the change in the position of our Western colleagues, which has unfortunately only come about as the result of terrible acts of terror, will spread to other Western partners,” Lavrov said, referring to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people.

"In my opinion there can now be no doubts that it is simply unacceptable to put forward any preconditions in order to unite in the battle against so-called [DAESH] terrorists."

Lavrov added that there was still no consensus about Assad’s future in the international community following discussions between world leaders at a summit in Vienna.

Russia and Iran have particularly been in favour of Assad remaining in power and have dismissed opposition forces battling to bring down his authoritarian regime as “terrorists.”

On Sept 30. Russia began a military campaign including air strikes and cruise missile launches on DAESH targets in Syria, but concerns have been raised that most air strikes have been targeting opposition groups allied to the US.

Iran has also deployed commanders from its Revolutionary Guards Quds Force unit to direct Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who were sent to Syria to support Assad’s troops.

The US and its allies have long been calling on Assad to step down, and a US military intervention was narrowly avoided in 2013 following a chemical attack on the opposition-held Damascus suburbs of Ghouta and Douma.

Although the Assad regime denied being behind the attacks, US intervention was prevented when Assad complied to pressure from Russia to surrender his chemical arsenal to the international community.

However, the growing threat posed by DAESH to Western interests in the region as well as the Russian intervention in Syria has seen Western leaders gradually backing down from their demands for Assad to resign immediately.

Instead, Western leaders are warming towards a new peaceful political transition process that envisions Assad’s participation.

The four-and-a-half-year-long war in Syria has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people, most of whom were killed by indiscriminate barrel bombs being dropped on civilian areas from regime helicopters.

The war began when a team of soldiers defected from the Syrian army after refusing to obey orders to shoot at peaceful protesters demonstrating against the regime’s dictatorship in the context of the Arab Spring revolution that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Taking advantage of the power vacuum arising from the war, DAESH, which broke off from Al Qaeda, captured the Syrian city of Raqqa where they have established the de facto capital of their self-proclaimed “caliphate."

DAESH then expanded northwards towards the Turkish border, where clashes with Kurdish militants backed by US-led coalition air strikes forced the group to retreat earlier this year.

Around half of the population of Syria has been displaced by the war, with around 5 million fleeing to neighbouring countries and another 7 million displaced within Syria.

Turkey has taken in the most Syrian refugees, with around 2.2 million. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have also fled to Europe, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

TRTWorld and agencies