President Putin paid a surprise visit to a Russian military base in Syria on Monday, where he delivered a speech praising his country’s troops and announcing that his government would soon begin withdrawing a “significant portion” of its soldiers. Though some disagree as to whether the seven-year civil war in Syria is really over, numerous officials, such as UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and today, Putin, have declared that the conflict has ended and that Assad is the victor.
“You are returning with victory to your native homes, to your relatives, parents, wives, children, friends,” Putin said in his Monday speech. “The motherland is waiting for you.” He made sure to add that, though a large number of Russian soldiers are scheduled to leave Syria, his forces were ready to “strike at [terrorists] with such blows as they have never seen” if they showed any signs of aggression.
Assad, who has thanked Putin for “saving” Syria on multiple occasions, followed up the Russian leader’s address with exuberant approval.
“Future generations that will read of this war will not differentiate between the Syrian martyr and the Russian martyr,” he said. “And the sacrifices of the heroes from both sides was a manifestation of the noblest battle in the confrontation of terrorism.” He later added, “Thanks a million.”
Russia interjected itself into the Syrian Civil War in 2015, at a point when it looked like Assad’s regime was doomed to crumble. Since then, Assad’s government has succeeded in defeating of pushing out the vast majority of its enemies.
Putin benefits from an Assad victory in a number of ways, including the influence Russia gains in the Middle East, the popularity boost it gives Putin among his own people, and the billions of dollars in profit Russia makes by selling weapons to Syria. While the Kremlin said last year that it spent roughly $500 million in the Syrian conflict, a 2015 report by Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, estimated that the country’s successful marketing campaign to sell weapons in the Middle Eastern country could result in profits ranging between $6 billion-$7 billion.
While estimates of Syrian casualties vary, all analyses put the death toll in the hundreds of thousands. In March, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of dead or missing civilians to total an estimated 465,000. An estimated 13.5 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees to Europe, the United States, Egypt, and other countries.
Regardless of whether Putin helped put him in office, Trump needs to stop fraternizing with a leader who would aid Assad in the massacre he’s carried out on the Syrian people.