Syria’s government says it “supports” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise two Moscow-backed separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.
In comments carried by the state-run Syrian News Agency, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying that the government of President Bashar al-Assad “will cooperate” with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).
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His statement at the Valdai forum in Moscow came hours after Dmitry Sablin, a Russian politician in charge of ties with the allied government in Damascus, said he had spoken to al-Assad about the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“He said that Syria would be ready to recognise them the way it had recognised [breakaway Georgian regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia” after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Sablin told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Speaking at a news conference following Russia’s moves on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his countrymen “were not afraid of anything or anyone”.
Meanwhile, Western governments condemned Russia at an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, with the United States calling Putin’s announcement an “unprovoked violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Putin’s government has been a key ally of al-Assad throughout the Syrian war that erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.
Russia’s military intervention in 2015 helped turn the tide of the war in al-Assad’s favour and Moscow maintains military bases in the country.
Last week, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Syria for talks with al-Assad and to inspect a Russian airbase in the war-torn country.
The trip came as the Russian military deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to its airbase in Syria for massive naval drills in the region.
During the meeting in Damascus, Shoigu “informed the Syrian president about the exercises of the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean”, the defence ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s political and military support for Syria has been a particular sticking point in Moscow’s relations with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow for bolstering al-Assad.