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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Assad denies Moscow is running the show in Syria

President criticises 'colonial' military actions of US and Britain

In this photo, released May 10, 2018 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria. AP
In this photo, released May 10, 2018 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria. AP

Syria's President Bashar Al Assad denied Moscow is running the show in his war-torn country, saying in an interview released on Sunday his government operates independently of its Russian and Iranian allies.

In a wide-ranging interview in Damascus with The Mail newspaper, Mr Assad slammed the United States and British military actions in Syria as "colonial" while praising Russia for its support of his regime.

"We've had good relations with Russia for more than six decades now, nearly seven decades. They never, during our relation, try to dictate, even if there are differences," he told the British newspaper.

Mr Al Assad admitted his government has disagreed with Russia and Iran throughout the country's seven-year conflict.

"That's very natural, but at the end the only decision about what's going on in Syria and what's going to happen, it's a Syrian decision," he said.

Moscow intervened militarily in Syria's conflict in 2015, when Mr Al Assad's forces were struggling to hold territory against rebel fighters.

Russian air strikes and military advisers have since helped regime troops to seize back more than half of the country.

Tehran, too, has sent military advisers to Syria, but the Syrian president has denied that Iranian troops are on the ground.

Iran's regional foe, Israel, has repeatedly warned it will not accept an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.

Israel is suspected of carrying out numerous raids on Syrian government positions over the years, and last month announced unprecedented strikes on what it said were Tehran-operated bases in Syria.

Read more: Rare tensions between Assad's backers as Syria's war unwinds

In his interview, Mr Al Assad denied Moscow had ever had prior knowledge of such strikes, despite close co-operation between Israel and Russia.

"No, no, that's not true," he said.

"Russia never co-ordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily, and that's a contradiction," he said.

"How could they help the Syrian army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?"

Syria's war has also drawn in many western powers who first backed rebel groups against Mr Al Assad, then shifted their focus to defeating ISIS as part of a US-led coalition.

Mr Al Assad lambasted the American and British interventions, saying they were "breaching the sovereignty of Syria".

"This is colonial policy, that's how we see it, and this is not new," he said.

He also told the Mail that his country had stopped sharing intelligence with European nations.

"They want to exchange information despite their governments being politically against ours, so we said … 'When you change your political position, we're ready'," he said.

"Now, there's no co-operation with any European intelligence agencies, including the British."

The interview, according to the Mail, was Mr Al Assad's first with a British journalist since 2015.

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