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[...] Fyodor Lukyanov: The Valdai conference from three years ago (in 2015), took place exactly two weeks after the military operation began in Syria.
I remember one of our colleagues asked you a question: “Was it actually worth being involved at all? Because of the costs, the casualties, and it is not clear how it will end.” And you said your branded phrase, which was quoted a lot later: “Fifty years ago, I learned one rule in the streets of Leningrad: if the fight is inevitable, be the first to strike.”
Well, we struck, and three years later, the situation in Syria has indeed changed dramatically, but it is still impossible to say that the problem has been resolved. Recent events make both positive and negative impressions. So I would like to repeat the question from three years ago: “Maybe it was not worth the risk, because the casualties have proven serious?”
Vladimir Putin: I remember this question, but it sounded like “are casualties possible?” I then said: “Yes, they are, but we must prevent the worst course of events.” And what would the worst development be for us? Full “somalisation” of that region, complete degradation of statehood and infiltration of a significant part of the militants into the territory of the Russian Federation and into the territory of neighbouring states with which we have no customs barriers, or borders in fact, a visa-free regime. That would have posed a real, serious danger to us.
But we have largely ruled out that risk by our actions, because we did a lot of damage to the terrorists in Syria. Many of them were eliminated, and some of them, thank God, decided they wanted out: they laid down their arms after losing faith in the principles they considered right. This, I would say, is the most important outcome.
The second, no less important thing, is that we have preserved Syrian statehood and in this sense helped stabilise the region. We talked about this in some detail with the President of Egypt just yesterday; he shares this position, and it is shared by many other countries. Therefore, I believe we have generally achieved the goals we had set for ourselves in starting the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic; we have achieved a result.
Look, after all, for some years before us, countries that agreed to participate in these anti-terrorist operations, most often voluntarily, and maybe even with less than perfect goals and objectives – what result have we seen in the previous three years? None. While we have liberated almost 95 percent of the entire territory of the Syrian Republic. This is my first point.
Second. We supported Syria’s statehood, prevented the state from collapsing. True, there are still many problems. Now we see what is happening on the left bank of the Euphrates. Probably, our colleagues know: this territory is under the patronage of our American partners. They rely on the Kurdish armed forces.
But they have obviously left a loose end: ISIS remains in several locations and has begun to expand its area of influence recently. They took 130 families hostage – almost 700 people.
I think few of those present here know that they have made ultimatums, extended demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met, they would shoot 10 people every day. The day before yesterday, 10 people were shot. Executed. They have begun to fulfil their threats.
This is just horrifying. It is a tragedy I think. We need to do something about it. Why do our colleagues keep silent? According to our information, several US and European citizens are among the hostages.
Everyone is quiet, there is silence as if nothing is happening. Therefore, there is still much to be done; this is true. But I repeat, on the whole, we have achieved our goal.
The next step is a political settlement at the UN in Geneva. We need to form a constitutional committee now. Progress is not easy, but we are still moving forward. I hope that we will move ahead with our partners in this area.
Fyodor Lukyanov: You said, some of the militants lost faith and understood that they were wrong. First, are you sure they lost faith? Or maybe they were just overpowered, and they realized it was pointless to continue to fight, but the situation might change a little, and they will get their faith back?
Vladimir Putin: Maybe. Maybe so. You are probably partly right.
Some of them have really laid down their arms and really realized they had false goals. Others have simply taken advantage of our humanitarian measures for the time being, and are ready to take up arms at any moment. This is possible.
This simply means we all need to be on the alert, not underestimate the threats, and step up our joint work to combat terrorism, the ideology of terrorism and the financing of terrorism.
Fyodor Lukyanov: A question on current events, if I may. October 15 was a deadline set by Turkey to do certain things in Idlib. Do you think they accomplished what they were supposed to do?
Vladimir Putin: No, not yet, but they are working on it. We see it. In this regard, I want to thank our Turkish partners. We see that they are working at this. This is not simple. On the contrary, everything is complicated, but they are honouring their commitments.
The demilitarised zone, on which we agreed, is being created in the Idlib de-escalation zone with a depth of 15–20 kilometres. Not all heavy weapons have been withdrawn yet, and not all members of the terrorist organisations ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra have left, but our Turkish partners are doing their best to fulfil their obligations.
This, I repeat, is not easy, there is more than meets the eye. They have even deployed a military hospital in this zone because there are losses. They are acting very tough and are very effective in their fight against these terrorist groups. [...]