JERUSALEM — Two of the world’s most authoritarian leaders — Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who are responsible for the bloodiest wars of the 21st century — met in the Kremlin on Thursday to discuss expanding Moscow’s military presence in Syria.

The pact between America’s two archenemies raises new questions about whether the Biden administration is on the defensive and is rapidly losing influence in a critical region of the world.

“We believe that the expansion of the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” Assad said in an interview with the Russian state news agency RIA. “Russia’s military presence in any country should not be based on something temporary.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Vladimir Gerdo, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)


When Putin intervened in Syria’s civil war in 2015, it helped tip the balance in Assad’s favor, ensuring the Syrian strongman’s survival despite Western demands for his ouster. Assad has waged a war against his own population that has killed more than 500,000 people, including Syrians using chemical weapons.

The potential increased presence of Russian troops and military bases in Syria would be another challenge for the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. American national security experts are watching China and Russia outrank the US in a region where Washington has historically had great influence.

Rebecca Koffler, a former U.S. Defense Agency analyst, told Fox News Digital that Putin began outwitting the U.S. in the Middle East with President Obama when Biden was his vice president.

“Putin tricked Obama and through proxy Biden into allowing the Russians to remove chemical weapons from Syria back in 2013. Instead, the Russians saw the space and took the opportunity to increase their military presence, trying to tip the balance in the Middle East. Putin is building an anti-American coalition: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria,” she said.

Kofler, author of the book “Putin’s Playbook,” added that the Russian leader “wants the Biden administration to think that he can help with the Iran nuclear deal, the peace settlement in Syria, but in reality Putin is not going to do anything consistent with strategic interests of the United States, especially now that the United States supports Ukraine. The security interests of the US and Russia are diametrically opposed.”

Fox News Digital reported this week America’s three main adversaries are Russia, China and Iran plan to conduct joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. A little over a week ago, China concluded a rapprochement agreement between arch-enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad inspects a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad inspects a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Sana via AP)


Spokesman for the United States State Department told Fox News Digital: “The evidence regarding Russia is clear. Regardless of where they participate in the armed forces, local civilians are paying the price for the Kremlin’s destructive games of killing civilians for Putin’s benefit. This is evident in Russia’s military campaigns in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, where they use military and paramilitary forces to exploit civilians in conflict zones to advance Moscow’s own selfish interests.”

The spokesman added: “Russia’s military campaign in Syria in support of the Assad regime has resulted in massive destruction and the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. These military operations are undermining the conditions for a political settlement of the Syrian conflict, and Russia has made no real effort to bring about significant change in the Syrian government’s appalling behavior toward its own people.”

The representative of the State Department emphasized that “Russia’s focus should be on promoting a political settlement in Syria, as determined by the UN Security Council Resolution 2254rather than bringing more suffering to the Syrian people.” The eight-year-old Resolution 2254 outlines a peace process to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Michael Rubin, senior fellow and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital: “The most important thing is to support allies. Russia did not hesitate to support its ally. Not only will Assad reward Putin, the move sends a signal to everyone else. a leader in the region. It’s not just about Russia embracing Syria. We are talking about Russia’s courtship of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

Rubin added: “We have to calibrate policy to this reality. Syrian Kurds are allies and friends. If Turkey supports the Islamists and Russia doubles down on Assad, we should double down on the Kurds. They are more progressive, capable fighters, they want a western orientation. The question is not only what the United States should do, but also what it should not do.”

Syria is a fragmented country whose territory is controlled by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds, Russia and Assad.

Rubin said: “This confirms that Syria will not be united. At best, if Turkey occupies the zone and now Russia doubles down, Syria will become a new Somalia of the 1990s, divided into zones of influence and ruled by different local warlords.”

Syrian refugees pose for a photo after their tents were flooded by rain at a temporary refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Al-Four near the border with Syria.

Syrian refugees pose for a photo after their tents were flooded by rain at a temporary refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Al-Four near the border with Syria. (AP)


Rubin warned about the dangers of sending aid to the Syrian regime. “Any funding we give to international organizations under the guise of helping to rebuild Syria will essentially reward a Russian proxy for mass murder. Money is interchangeable. What we give in the name of reconstruction is essentially helping Assad and Putin build a base. This proposal by Assad shows where his priorities lie. Let’s not be naive,” he said.

During the visit, Assad presented a number of material awards to Moscow. Assad told Putin: “We believe that if Russia has a desire to expand bases or increase their number, then this is a technical or logistical issue.”

“It is beneficial for Russia to have more bases in Syria, and Putin is likely to accept the offer,” Koffler warned. “Since Russian and American forces are already operating nearby in Syria, expanding Russia’s foothold in the region gives Putin more leverage and the Russian military more opportunities to gather intelligence on US war tactics, military equipment, etc. The Russians are studying US war-making methods carefully to find vulnerabilities and develop counter-strategies.’

Syria was standing nearby Russia on the issue of Ukraine, – said Asad. “Since this is my first visit since the beginning of the military special operation in Ukraine, I would like to reiterate Syria’s position in support of this special operation,” Assad told Putin, according to the Kremlin transcript.

Syria recognizes the territories of Ukraine seized by Russia as Russian, Assad said. “I say that these are Russian territories, and even if there was no war, these are historically Russian territories,” Assad told RIA.

Syrian men walk between buildings destroyed by bombs in Aleppo, Syria, on October 3, 2012.

Syrian men walk between buildings destroyed by bombs in Aleppo, Syria, on October 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Sana, file)


Assad’s years as president have been defined by a conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiraling into a multi-faceted conflict that has fractured middle eastern country and attracts foreign friends and enemies.

He rebuilt much of his state with the help of Russia and Iran, helped by the fact that his allies were always more committed to his survival than his enemies to his defeat.

Along with the Khmeimim air base, from which Russia launches airstrikes in support of Assad, Moscow also controls the Tartus naval facility in Syria, its only naval base in the Mediterranean that has been in use since the Soviet Union.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in January that Russia and Syria had reopened the El Jara military air base in northern Syria for joint use. A small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State militants in 2017. Press inquiries sent to the Russian government were not returned.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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