Syrian opposition praises Turkey for support, accuses Assad of selling out to Russia and Iran

The former head of Syria’s opposition Abdurrahman Mustafa extended praise to Turkey for its ongoing support against the government in Damascus and accuses it of selling out Syrian resources to Russia and Iran. 

Mustafa made his remarks in an exclusive interview with pro-government Daily Sabah on Sunday. In the interview, a leader within the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council, Mustafa lambasts Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for annihilating his country and pushing it to the point of destitution. All of this is taking place amidst a continued civil war that has left thousands dead and millions more displaced. 

In particular, Mustafa accuses Assad of plundering his own country’s resources to then hand it off to his foreign backers, Russia and Iran. 

“The reason for this awful situation is not economic sanctions as the regime and its allies claim. The real reason is that the regime uses the country’s resources to attack its own people, leaving the people hungry and in poverty while handing the resources over to the use of its allies Iran and Russia,” Mustafa underlined in the interview. 

Russia and Iran have backed Assad amidst the country’s ten year civil war. Their combined support has been crucial for retaking large swaths of Syria while at the same time keeping his regime away from collapse. Moscow has exercised its diplomatic muscle to protect Assad within the United Nation Security Council and to encourage other states to contribute to its eventual reconstruction. 

Syria is due to have a presidential election on May 26 in what many international observers expect to be a rigged affair. At the same time, negotiations are ongoing in Geneva to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war. 

On this, Mustafa expresses doubt that the regime could be trusted to adhere to any international agreement. He extends blame for Assad’s blatant disregard for international norms and conventions to the failure of the international community to hold him to account. 

“From past experiences, it is known that the regime does not promise any cease-fire or agreement but carries out massacres whenever it has the possibility. The fact that there is no international deterrent causes the regime and its allies to conduct ever more crimes against the Syrian people.

“We got used to the regime bombing its own people as a means to put pressure on Turkey and the international community and to make its election theater accepted.”

Mustafa thanked Turkey in contrast for its longtime support for Syria’s opposition, particularly its brokering of a ceasefire with Russia in Idlib province last year. 

Idlib is the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels beyond the Turkish controlled portions of northeast Syria. The province is home to hundreds of rebel fighters and millions of civilian refugees. 

Russia first agreed to a ceasefire with Turkey in 2018 but it has periodically supported new regime offensives into the province, even if it meant targeting Turkish soldiers stationed there. After the last offensive was blunted by a Turkish intervention that decimated regime forces, Russia and Turkey agreed to a new ceasefire in March 2020 that has since held.

The Syrian National Council has increasingly grown closer to Turkey since the war began in 2011. It has adopted the rhetoric of Ankara in the way it refers to the Syrian Kurdish militants as terrorists and has justified the Turkish occupation of the parts of northern Syria.