MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Russia’s medium-term plans in Syria include improving the capabilities of the Syrian armed forces which would allow Russian troops to relocate to existing Russian bases in the country, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. “We aim to establish a process, a political settlement [in Syria] between all the sides involved,” Putin also said during a question and answer session with citizens.
He said that after boosting the capabilities of the Syrian military, Russia’s air force would continue helping it wherever necessary.
Putin also said Russia’s military industrial complex had benefited greatly from testing its latest weapons in Syria. Combined with this, the experience acquired by the Russian army in Syria is “priceless,” he said.
Speaking in a televised call-in show Thursday, Putin said the campaign in Syria that Russia has conducted since September 2015 has allowed the military to test its state-of-the art weapons in real combat.
The experience allowed engineers to polish weapons designs and has given a “new quality” to the Russian military, he said.
When asked about relations with the U.S., Putin said that boosting ties with the United States would help bring stability to Syria and the Middle East, and there was already evidence of this happening.
“As far as the flashpoints are concerned ... there are positive examples of our cooperation,” he said. “The Syrian problem, Mid-Eastern problem on the whole ... There are other flashpoints and we are very hopeful for the United States’ constructive role in the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis ... We are ready for a constructive dialogue.”
In Syria, meanwhile, regime forces are approaching the last town held by Daesh (ISIS) in the central province of Homs in the latest push by President Bashar Assad’s troops against the extremists, state media and opposition activists said Thursday.
The capture of Sukhna would pave the way for government forces to march toward the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, where Daesh has been besieging a government-held part of the city for nearly three years.
Daesh-held Deir al-Zor has recently witnessed an outbreak of polio, but a U.N. humanitarian aid adviser Thursday said trucks are being prepared to ship vaccines into the governorate.
Syrian troops have also advanced against Daesh in the north, evicting the extremists from Aleppo province.
The extremists are, meanwhile, fighting to defend their de facto capital, Raqqa, from U.S.-backed and Kurdish led forces, which have captured four neighborhoods since launching an offensive in the northern Syrian city last week.
“Continuous achievements to defeat terrorism,” state TV said, referring to government forces’ capture of about 20,000 square kilometers from the extremists since the beginning of the year.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces and their allies are within 25 km of Sukhna, which has been held by the extremists since May 2015. Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said troops are advancing deep into the desert area near the historic central town of Palmyra. The agency said government forces captured the so-called “Arak Triangle,” which links the town of Sukhna and Arak to a major oil pumping station.
“All fields from T4 to Arak have been liberated,” a Syrian army office told state TV, referring to an army air base in Homs province known as T4.
A military media unit run by regime ally Hezbollah Thursday said the army had captured the Thawra oil field south of Tabqa in northern Syria.
Syrian oil fields have been an important source of revenue for Daesh. Their loss has made it more difficult for the Damascus government to produce electricity.
Elsewhere, airstrikes hit rebel-held districts east of Damascus for the first time in weeks after shells landed in parts of the capital controlled by the Syrian government, a Reuters witness and the Observatory said.
Fighting and bombardment around Damascus have eased significantly since Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed a deal for “de-escalation zones” around Syria in an April meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan.
However, strikes Thursday targeted the Eastern Ghouta area of farms and towns outside Damascus after at least two shells hit the capital’s Qassaa district, the Reuters witness said.
The Observatory said the Syrian army also bombarded the Jobar district in eastern Damascus.