Russian news agency calls Assad ‘weak’ in unprecedented criticism
A Russian news agency close to President Vladimir Putin has launched an unprecedented and surprising attack on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian forces have provided critical support to Assad in the Syrian conflict for nearly five years but the Federal News Agency (FAN), which is owned by infamous Russian businessman Yevgeny Pregozhin, took aim at the brutal Syrian dictator in an article published on Wednesday.
The article said that Assad was weak and “did not own the situation” in Syria and that the country’s wealth was being stolen by corrupt officials who “had all power and control over the electricity and industry in the country”.
Yevgeny Pregozhin is a close associate of President Putin and has been called “Putin’s chef” by the Associated Press.
He made his fortune in the restaurant business and is now involved with a series of well-known Russian companies, including the notorious Internet Research Agency troll farm, accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections and the private security firm Wagner, which has sent Russian mercenaries to Syria, Libya, and Africa.
Cracks in the alliance between Assad and Russia have come to the surface before. Russia is reportedly angry with Assad for violating a ceasefire and attacking rebel-held Idlib province in January 2020, causing Turkey to intervene against Assad. A new ceasefire has been in place since early March.
The Federal News Agency’s criticisms appear to have been prompted by the closure of two gas wells in central Syria by the government of Assad’s prime minister, Imad Khamis. The Russian website said that the “security reasons” offered by Assad’s government for the closure were fake and that the real reason was due to government corruption, with officials wanting to profit from the resulting rise in prices.
It said that Russia had “restored” Syria’s economy but the corruption of Khamis’s government was making it impossible for Russian firms to operate in the country. It also accused Khamis of renegotiating electricity supplies with other countries, such as Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon for his personal benefit, portraying Assad as unwilling or unable to rein in his prime minister.
Russia’s 2015 intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has cost thousands of Syrian lives, is considered to have been a decisive factor in Assad’s continuing rule of Syria. The Russian intervention has taken on a neo-colonial character, with Assad leasing the port of Tartus to Russia for 49 years and Russian companies taking control of the country’s phosphate resources.