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'We are staying in Syria as long as necessary'

The Russian military plays a decisive role in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military successes, says Major General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian defense ministry spokesman, in an exclusive interview with DW.

DW: Mr Konashenkov, only a few weeks ago, Russian military jets thundered over Syria. Now the skies have quieted down. Yet the Russian military is still present. What are you doing here?

Konashenkov: Russian military advisors are taking part in preparations for military operations, like the liberation of Palmyra, Al-Qaryatayn and other major IS positions. They are teaching Syrian experts the special knowledge needed to use the weapons that we deliver in the context of our cooperation. Of course, we are also taking part in the development of the operations.

Russian airplanes have disappeared as quickly from Syrian skies as they had appeared. Nonetheless, Syria is full of terrorists. Does that mean Russia did not accomplish its mission of liberating Syria from terrorists?

No, your view is completely wrong. Russian jets are still at the Khmeimim airbase, as always. We have as many of them as we need. They are modern airplanes and helicopters and they fly on enough missions - even today.

Major General Igor Konashenkov

Major General Igor Konashenkov

They are targeting terrorist groups. Our specialists are also here to fulfill a humanitarian mission, in which they, for example, defuse explosives and landmines in the ancient city of Palmyra so everyone can marvel at the works that humans created millennia ago.

How is the cooperation with other countries going, for example, with the United States?

It is very active in the context of the agreements for the reconciliation process of warring parties and the cessation of hostilities. We have established an observation point at our base in Khmeimim; the Americans have a similar center in Amman. We are in daily contact. We immediately inform our American colleagues about any cases of violation of ceasefires, and - they must be given credit - they share all the information they get through their channels with us. The current problem is in Aleppo. According to our information, over 1,000 heavily armed fighters are concentrated there, particularly from the Al-Nusra Front. They have heavy weapons, many armored vehicles and tanks.

Parliamentary elections will take place in Syria on April 13. It is an extremely inopportune point in time. There are no election campaigns and there is no peace in the country. What do you think these elections will be like?

It is hard to say whether or not Syria is ready. Everything is relative. Yes, according to European standards, the country is not ready. But it has to start somewhere and somehow. And the somehow must be the political process. I travel through the country a great deal and see how unique Syria is and how diverse - in the mentality, the way of living and religion. All these people once lived together for thousands of years. Like anyone else, I think they should be given a chance to take control of their own lives. We should not disturb them but instead, support them.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov is a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry. This interview was conducted by DW's Juri Rescheto.

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