Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had some harsh words for President Francois Hollande and praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an interview with the conservative French magazine Valeurs Actuelles to be published Thursday. Unfortunately for Putin, Syrian state media omitted Assad’s praise from its official “full” text of the interview.
The interview, the magazine notes, will be published in full in its print edition Thursday, but they have been promoting it through small tidbits published online. In one, Assad responds to a question regarding the role Turkey is playing in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). He responds by accusing Turkey of “supporting the al-Nusra Front [al-Qaeda] and Daesh [ISIS] and they send you millions of migrants… When I look at the state of the world, I understand that Vladimir Putin is the sole defender of the Christian civilization on which one can rely.”
In the English-language “full text of the interview” published Thursday in SANA, Syria’s state media outlet, this sentence does not appear. Instead, this is the full answer on the question regarding Turkey:
The most dangerous role, in the whole situation, because Turkey offered all kinds of support to those terrorists, and all the spectrums of the terrorists. Some countries support al-Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda, some other countries support ISIS, while Turkey supports both, and other groups at the same time. They support them with, how to say, human resources, they recruit. They support them with money, logistics, armaments, surveillance, information, and even the maneuvers of their military through their borders during the fights in Syria. Even the money that’s being collected from the rest of the world passes through Turkey, and the oil that ISIS sells is through Turkey, so Turkey is playing the worst part of our crisis.
Second, that’s related directly to Erdogan himself and Davutoglu, because they both reflect the real ideology that they carry in their hearts, which is the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
The favorable comment on Putin does appear in the Arabic-language SANA text of the interview as “Question 6.” Question 6 in the English language transcript appears as follows:
Question 5: You just met President Putin. I mean, I don’t want to ask you what he said to you, but I want to ask you; when somebody said that Putin is the last guy who defends the West, would you say that? That Putin is the last head of state who defends the Christian-Western civilization?
President Assad: So he defends Western Europe?
Question 6: Exactly.
While Assad’s media may be embellishing his remarks on Christianity for its English-language readers, Russian media has taken to publishing them as a blaring headline. Sputnik News, an English-language Russian propaganda outlet, published the Christian civilization comment as the main takeaway in Assad’s interview when Valeurs Actuelles first published the snippet.
The relationship between Assad and Putin has been for many years extremely close. Russia is the Syrian government’s most prominent international defender, and has entered the Syrian civil war alongside Syrian troops, with Putin announcing an offensive against the Islamic State, but instead conducting airstrikes mostly against moderate Syrian opposition groups. In gratitude, Assad made his first international trip since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011 this October to Moscow, where he personally thanked Putin, stating that “if it was not for your actions and your decisions the terrorism which is spreading in the region would have swallowed up a much greater area and spread over an even greater territory.”
Since then, however, rumors have surfaced that Russia’s steadfast refusal to support plans that would require Assad to abdicate his power may be waning. The Times of Israel published a report this week claiming that senior Israeli officials have intelligence that Putin has asked Assad personally to step down. The report surfaced shortly after American officials stated that President Obama’s meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit had been “constructive” regarding the Syrian situation. The Russian government has not responded to that specific report, but has issued repeated statements that they will support Assad as long as he remains in power following the 2014 presidential election, widely derided by the international community as a “sham.”