Damascus — Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov pledged on Monday that his country would help Syria's government survive. Borisov spoke during a visit to Syria's capital five years after Moscow launched its military intervention in Syria, which helped turn the tide of the war with U.S.-backed rebels back in President Bashar Assad's favor.
"We are expecting to sign a pact in December, during my next visit to Syria's capital, that would outline a new framework for trade and economic ties between the two countries for the coming years," Borisov told reporters at a joint news conference with the Syrian foreign minister in Damascus, after the delegation met with Assad.
The Russian said the latest round of U.S. sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, were "strangling" the Syrian people. "In fact, this is a blockade, a destructive position by the United States and Western countries that we are making joint efforts to break through," said Borisov.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting Damascus for the first time since 2012, was also at the news conference. He said the Russian delegation's visit, "focuses on the prospect of cooperation to develop relations between the two countries in light of new developments in the region."
Syrian official sources quoted Assad as saying that he wanted to expand business ties with Russia to help Syria's crippled economy cope with the U.S. sanctions, which he said threaten to undermine military gains achieved in the war with Moscow's help.
"The government is determined to continue to work with Russian allies to implement signed agreements and to ensure the success of Russian investments in Syria," Assad said, according to state media.
Although Assad has regained control over most of the territory he lost during the civil war, the economy is in tatters. Many Syrians have fallen into poverty and the domestic currency has lost 80% of its value.
Russia has remained a steadfast ally of Assad throughout Syria's devastating nine-year war, lending vital military, economic and political support. Russian troops have fought alongside Syrian government forces since 2015, and President Vladimir Putin has visited the war-torn country twice, most recently in January.
In addition to the toll on the economy and infrastructure, the war has left more than 380,000 people dead andand into jam-packed camps for refugees and internally displaced people.