Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

Lukashenko plans to meet with Medvedev in December, media reports say

 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko plans to meet with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who may come to Minsk for this specific purpose, before the end of the year, the Belarusian leader said on Tuesday at a meeting with the head of his administration Igor Sergeyenko and Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Natalya Kochanova, the news agency BelTA reported.

During a conversation with the Russian prime minister, they agreed to meet ahead of the New Year, he said.

“He (Medvedev) was pleased to agree that we’ll meet somewhere and find time for it. He says that he might even come to Minsk. I think we’ll find a place to meet,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader stated that it is important to synchronize watches on the integration agenda not just with the Russian president but with the prime minister as well. “There are issues which concern our governments. I’d like the conversation with Dmitry [Medvedev] to be held on certain issues,” Lukashenko said.

On December 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a lengthy meeting in Sochi at which they discussed avenues for further integration between Moscow and Minsk. The heads of state agreed to continue dialogue on this issue on December 20.


LONG Tycoon Khodorkovsky Talks Putin, Russia’s Problems, And Opposition

In a far-ranging interview with RFE/RL, Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky analyzed the Russian president, spoke about the opposition’s prospects and Russia’s problems, and compared governing systems all from a viewpoint living in self-imposed exile for more than five years.

Khodorkovsky, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main opponents, didn’t hide his respect for the Kremlin leader’s ability to stay in power for 20 years.

Speaking in Germany’s capital on October 1, the tycoon called Putin an “autocrat,” who has a knack for spotting weaknesses in people and quickly size them up.

Putin knows how to ingratiate himself with politicians at home and world leaders by telling them what they like or want to hear, Khodorkovsky said, who now runs a project called the Civil Society Support Group in Russia. The endeavor is part of Khodorkovsky’s effort to unseat Putin from power.

Like any good spy “handler,” he said, Putin has effectively managed relationships with U.S. President Donald Trump, former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, and others, for example.

“The KGB was a good school” for teaching that skill, Khodorkovsky said of Putin’s past career in the spy agency.

Putin ascended power based on his ability to capture the public’s mood 20 years ago, when the public had “grown tired of revolution, it wanted a counterrevolution, it wanted to return to the past.”

However, a new generation has grown up, so “society has changed, and the people want something else,” he said without specifying.

Another factor to Putin’s longevity is that has delegated macroeconomic matters to “systemic liberals” like central bank chairwoman Elvira Nabiullina, Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, and Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin.

People like them have “prevented catastrophic failures” in the economy.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in prison for what he has said were trumped up charges.

A mistake he made was in trusting former President Boris Yeltsin’s choice of Putin to replace him in 2000.

“Boris Nikolayevich made a choice that benefited him and his family the most, not the country,” Khodorkovsky said.

As for Putin’s main weakness, it is that “he doesn’t believe in institutions at all.”

Putin “believes that a person can be faithful to him, he believes that he can control a person, but he does not believe in institutions.”

In developmental terms, Russia is behind Europe by at least 60 years, and “Moscow is stuck somewhere in the 1980s.”

Khodorkovsky called having one homogenous opposition group a “mistake” because if it comes to power the “regime won’t change, only the faces and names will.”

A diverse group of opposition groups “with different ideas” is healthy so if they replace the current government, a ruling “coalition” will emerge.

He insisted that any change in power should be done democratically through “free and fair elections on a regular basis.”

Democracies are superior to authoritarian regimes because they could adopt to change faster and “meet challenges” effectively.

Since there is no rule of law in Russia, “any autocrat understands that when he leaves, he goes to prison if he does not die,” Khodorkovsky said of Putin. “Any autocrat understands that if he ceases to be a key element of balance, he will be demolished, and he will be in prison at best. That is why such an autocrat, like Putin, ties the balance personally.”

Some of Russia’s problems from afar do seem “trivial” at times, but as a country of 140 million people, its problems still matter to Europe, he said.

“Russia is that part of Euro-Atlantic civilization that has not yet fully decided where it belongs,” Khodorkovsky said. “And this is very significant in today’s world, which is built on the cultural competition of civilizations.”


Russia’s Lavrov Discusses Putin’s Upcoming Visit To Saudi Arabia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has discussed preparations for Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s October visit to Saudi Arabia at the United Nations in New York.

Speaking to TASS news agency on September 24, Lavrov said he spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf about the agenda of Putin’s visit, which will include the situation in the Persian Gulf as well as in Yemen and Syria.

Projectiles struck Saudi oil facilities on September 14 in an attack that the United States, Britain, France, and Germany have blamed on Iran.

Putin earlier this month met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rohani in Ankara for talks aimed at finding a lasting truce in the ruinous eight-year Syrian civil war.

They discussed Idlib, a region in northwestern Syria that is the last rebel stronghold.

They vowed to prevent a worse humanitarian crisis in the region and agreed to ease tensions there.

Last year, Russia and Turkey signed a buffer-zone agreement that is supposed to protect Idlib from a government offensive. Ankara mans 12 observation posts in the area to help enforce it, however it fears Syrian forces, who enjoy Russian air-power support, will advance on Idlib.


Putin: We will not hesitate to use force to defend our ships in Hormuz

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that his country is ready to use force to defend its ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

During a speech at the Eastern Economic Forum, Putin claimed that his country is closely monitoring the developments occurring in Hormuz. The Russian President stressed the need to reduce escalation and find ways to ensure the security and freedom of navigation in the region.

Putin said that, years ago, Moscow proposed establishing an international mechanism, with the participation of all the countries interested in the region, including the United States, according to the TV channel Russia Today.


Putin promises infrastructure investment in Mongolia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to help finance new infrastructure in Mongolia on a one-day visit this week, as the landlocked country looks to reduce its reliance on Beijing.

Mongolia sits in a strategically important place between Russia and China, and its economy has been growing largely from mineral exports to its giant neighbour China.

But the Mongolian authorities have been looking for ways to export more to other Asian countries, and the Russian president’s visit on Tuesday was seen as a key opportunity to strengthen ties.

“Russia will never forget Mongolia’s help and support when Russia was fighting against the Nazis,” Putin said, joining in a celebration to mark the 80th anniversary of a battle fought by Mongolian and Russian soldiers against the invading Japanese army in 1939.

Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga and Putin signed a series of agreements including joint investment funds to finance Mongolia’s infrastructure developments, with the Russian president loaning 100 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) in a gift for the battle anniversary.

Battulga said he planned to use the aid to build new railroads to the Chinese border to open one more channel for coal and mineral export.

Battulga also stated that Mongolia hopes to build its own terminal in a Russian port to facilitate exporting its natural resources through Russia.

While the two countries have $1.7 billion annually in two-way trade, around 95 percent of it is Mongolia buying oil from Russia.

Putin’s visit comes after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper made a rare visit to Mongolia last month on an Asian tour aimed at shoring up partnerships to counter China’s growing influence in the region.


Ukraine’s deadliest day: The battle of Ilovaisk, August 2014

It was the biggest loss of life in Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed separatists.

Hundreds of soldiers died as the Ukrainian army and volunteers retreated in a column from the eastern town of Ilovaisk on 29 August 2014.

Ukrainian veterans are adamant the Russian army was there, even though Moscow has always denied claims that regular Russian forces took part in the battle.

President Vladimir Putin has said merely that any Russians involved were volunteers following “a call of the heart”.

How the battle was lost

At first it seemed like any other operation against Russian-backed separatists, says Roman Zinenko, 45, a former soldier who served in the Dnipro-1 volunteer police battalion that fought in the battle of Ilovaisk.

The Ukrainian army had surrounded the town and their battalion had been ordered to “wipe out” the Russian-backed force.

But on 24 August, Ukraine’s independence day, they began receiving calls from relatives.

Ilovaisk was surrounded, Ukrainian media were reporting.

“We did not feel that, because the [Ukrainian] army held positions around the city,” he told the BBC. “On August 24, we even captured the enemy’s fortified area.”

But the next day, heavy mortar shelling began and the school they were using as a base was raided.

We realised the enemy had reinforcements,” he says.

“At the time we could not imagine the scale of this entrapment. Our troops had surrounded Ilovaisk but all our troops were surrounded by the enemy”.

Negotiations were going on and a humanitarian corridor was being prepared for them to leave, they were told, and yet their withdrawal was repeatedly postponed.

How soldiers became trapped in ‘bloody corridor’

Then, on the morning of 29 August 2014, came the command to gather and leave Ilovaisk in two columns.

“Nobody knew the routes,” said Roman Zinenko.

They began to move, they passed the first ring of encirclement smoothly but within a few kilometres their column came under fire.

“It was just a shooting range and we were the targets,” he said.

Roman and his fellow soldiers had set out in a security van because of a lack of equipment. But its wheels and motor were shot up so they switched to a light-armoured vehicle and kept going under constant fire.

Behind them, an infantry fighting vehicle carrying more than 10 soldiers was hit by a shell.

Bodies were thrown everywhere by the force of the blast.

“I can still see it. This body flying high, turning in the air and ending up hanging from a power line.”

They drove on a few more kilometres until their vehicle was disabled.

He escaped unharmed but his commander, Denys Tomilovych, was hit in the head by a 30mm automatic cannon shell.

“Another fighter sat next to him, he was injured too,” said Roman Zinenko. “When Den was hit in the head, fragments of his helmet and skull just cut his forearm.”

Roman and his comrades managed to survive and escaped the encirclement two days later.

According to official Ukrainian data, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Ilovaisk battle.

The true figure may be at least 400, when you include soldiers registered missing or unidentified by their relatives.

How the conflict began

February 2014: Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych flees after months of protests in Kiev

March 2014: Russia seizes then annexes Crimea from Ukraine

April 2014: Russian-backed armed groups seize parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk; government launches military operation to retake them

August 2014: Battle of Ilovaisk

Total casualties of conflict 2014-19: Some 13,000 dead, including 3,331 civilians, and 30,000 wounded (OHCR 2019)

Did the Russian army get involved?

The Ukrainian general staff blames the heavy loss of life on an “invasion” by the Russian army. A government report also cited poor military preparedness and mistakes by senior commanders.

While many also died on the pro-Russian side, Kiev insists the separatists simply did not have the capability to win the battle.

Ukraine says nine battalion tactical groups of the Russian regular army crossed into eastern Ukraine and surrounded Ukrainian forces near Ilovaisk.

Russia puts it down to a “counterattack” by rebel forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

It denies direct armed support of the separatists and says only Russian “volunteers” who were not associated with the regular army fought in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The separatists were using Soviet-era arms and military equipment captured from Ukrainian soldiers, and not modern Russian weaponry, Moscow insists.

It has made these arguments ever since the conflict began.

Was a Russian tank in the battle?

“We did not encounter Russian soldiers in Ilovaisk itself,” Roman Zinenko accepts.

“But the (Ukrainian) fighters who held positions around Ilovaisk and held back tank attacks seized a Russian T-72B3 tank that could only belong to the Russian army.”

This is the same tank the research group Forensic Architecture has investigated as part of a case being taken by Ukrainian volunteers against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights.

In August 2014, the tank was filmed by Ukraine’s Espresso TV channel, but it was later recaptured by pro-Russian forces.

Roman Zinenko says he also saw Russian military equipment in the first line of the encirclement.

“There were modifications of multi-purpose armoured light vehicles which the Ukrainian army doesn’t have. We use Soviet-era machines and these [Russian ones] are more modern. They look different.”

Who were the Russians near Ilovaisk?

The BBC also spoke to another Ukrainian military veteran, Vadym Yakushenko, 40, who was at one of the checkpoints near Ilovaisk and captured by what he insists was the “regular Russian army”.

He says he also saw new Russian military equipment with markers in the form of white circles and erased numbers.

“There was a guy named Vanya from Kostroma who openly said he was from the 76th Pskov Airborne Division of the Russian Army,” Mr Yakushenko insists.

“He complained that we had spoiled his vacation. He had recently got married and was planning a honeymoon but was summoned from his division and sent by train to [the Russian border town] Rostov and then ended up in Ukraine.”

Five years on, the battle of Ilovaisk continues to overshadow the lives of the two veterans.

Vadym Yakushenko is head of a museum dedicated to the conflict, while Roman Zinenko has written two books on the battle.

“Part of my soul is still there,” says Roman.


Putin and Erdogan agree on military push in Syria’s Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may not have got the reprieve he hoped for during talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears determined to rout remaining armed opposition groups from Syria.

During Mr Erdogan’s one-day visit to Russia, the Russian leader told reporters that Turkey and Russia had agreed on joint measures aimed at clearing “terrorists” in Syria’s Idlib province.

“Together with Turkey’s president we have outlined additional joint steps to neutralise the terrorists’ nests in Idlib and normalisation of the situation there and in the whole of Syria as a result,” Mr Putin told a joint briefing with the Turkish president in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, on the sidelines of an international aviation and space show.

The Russian president said that representatives from the two countries alongside Iranian officials would meet in Turkey in September to make progress on brokering a political solution to the conflict.

Mr Erdogan’s trip to Moscow was seen by observers as a plea for respite in the Syrian government’s offensive on the last bastion of opposition to President Bashar Al Assad.

After eight years of conflict, government forces backed by Russia are several months into an operation to quash armed opposition groups and extremists in the north-west province of Idlib.

Victory for Mr Assad would all but mark the end of the military phase of the war in Syria, which erupted after his forces brutally suppressed a series of peaceful, anti-government protests in 2011.

Mr Erdogan is concerned that an all-out assault will force a massive wave of refugees towards Turkey’s borders. Idlib is home to around three million Syrians, many of whom sought refuge there after fleeing regime offensives on their home cities.

Turkey already houses more displaced Syrians than any other country, but Mr Erdogan is facing a political crisis at home as the country buckles under the weight of hosting more than three million displaced Syrians. In recent weeks, Ankara has come under fire for its crackdown, deporting vulnerable Syrians back to a conflict zone.

Mr Erdogan told the Russian president last week that attacks by the Syrian regime’s forces were causing a humanitarian crisis and threatened Turkey’s national security. At the beginning of the campaign, he criticised regime and Russian forces for targeting schools and hospitals.

However, Russia and Mr Assad are anxious to finally rout armed opposition from Idlib, bring about a final military resolution to the conflict and begin reconstruction efforts.

Russia and Turkey along with Iran agreed a ceasefire in Idlib last September and tasked Ankara with coordinating a drawdown of armed opposition there. The region is controlled mainly by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), an Al-Qaeda affiliate that has vowed to continue the fight against the Assad regime.

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Russian-backed offensive in Idlib did not violate the terms of the ceasefire.

“Erdogan will try to renegotiate the Idlib agreement because Turkey isn’t able to implement it, which gives Russia a reason to support Syrian military operations in the province,” said Alexei Khlebkikov, a Middle East expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank which advises the Kremlin.

“It is unlikely that Erdogan is capable of stopping Russia-backed Syrian army offensive in Idlib, but he might be able to slow it down and decrease the level of violence,” Mr Khlebnikov told The National.

The UN says that 500,000 have already been displaced by the Russian-backed Syrian offensive in Idlib and Mr Khlebnikov added it was likely that, “Erdogan will raise the issue of the new refugees that are fleeting towards Turkey”.

Mr Erdogan’s trip coincided with a new round of deliveries of the Russian S-400 missile system to Turkey, an arms deal that has strained relations between Ankara and Washington.

US President Donald Trump threatened sanctions and repeatedly called on Turkey to call off the missile deal ahead of the first deliveries earlier this summer. United States officials say the Russian systems are incompatible with other allies within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a defense alliance whose members include the US and Turkey.

During his visit to Moscow, the Turkish president toured the MAKS air show, a biennial event that showcases Russia’s aerospace industry.

The Russian president was eager to put on display the latest Russian Sukhoi fighter jet as a replacement to the American F-35 jet, which the US made unavailable to Turkey after it purchased the Russian missile system.


Putin Pitches New Warplane to Erdogan as U.S.-Turkey Ties Strain

President Vladimir Putin showed off Russia’s latest stealth warplane to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s been barred from buying a new U.S. fighter jet in a dispute with Donald Trump over the purchase of a Russian missile system.

Flanked by the Russian and Turkish defense ministers, Putin and Erdogan inspected the cockpit of the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter on Tuesday at opening of the MAKS-2019 international air show outside Moscow. They also toured the Su-35 fighter, helicopter displays and an amphibious aircraft.

Welcoming his “good friend” Erdogan to the air display, Putin pitched the “technical capabilities of the latest generation of the Russian Air Forces,” which he said “will open up new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation,” according to a Kremlin transcript.

When Erdogan inquired during the tour whether the Su-57 is already available to buy, a smiling Putin replied “You can buy,” the Interfax news service reported.

Erdogan’s visit follows the U.S. decision last month to suspend Turkey’s ability to buy and help build the advanced F-35 stealth warplane in retaliation for defying Trump and taking delivery of a Russian S-400 air-defense system. The U.S. says the S-400 purchase is incompatible with Turkey’s role in NATO and the F-35 program because it may allow Russia to glean information about the fighter’s advanced technology.

Turkey had planned to buy about 100 F-35s and will have to seek alternatives if the U.S. maintains the ban. After a crisis in relations when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in 2015, Putin and Erdogan have strengthened economic and military ties in recent years as relations between Turkey and its NATO ally have strained.

Syria Strains

The two leaders are holding their latest talks to try to resolve disagreements over a Kremlin-backed offensive by the Syrian army against rebels in the northwestern Idlib region that risks sparking a fresh exodus of refugees to Turkey.

“Turkey is our very close partner, it’s our ally,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member. While he declined to say whether Putin and Erdogan would discuss new arms sales, he noted that “everything is really concentrated right there” at MAKS.

Turkey insists it was forced to buy the Russian air-defense system because NATO allies, including the U.S., wouldn’t meet its defensive needs on Turkish terms. The U.S. has repeatedly offered to sell Patriot air-defense missiles to Turkey, but without the technology sharing that the Turkish government says it needs to develop its domestic production capabilities.

While Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Syrian war, they have cooperated in trying to enforce a halt to the fighting. The Syrian military earlier this month broke a cease-fire over Idlib to wage an offensive against a one-time al-Qaeda affiliate in the last major rebel redoubt. Erdogan has called the recent developments a “very serious security threat.”

Erdogan hopes to find common ground with Putin before hosting Russian and Iranian leaders in Ankara on Sept. 16 to discuss ways to hold back the Syrian army. Russia says preserving the cease-fire in Idlib depends on the elimination of thousands of militants.

Turkey has so far refrained from using force against the jihadists despite repeated calls from Moscow, relying on the presence of Turkish troops in Idlib as a deterrent against a large-scale attack on the Sunni Muslim-majority province.


Erdogan Takes Case to Putin With Turkey Cornered Again in Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking a reprieve from Vladimir Putin as Russian-backed Syrian forces close in on the country’s last major rebel bastion.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army, with Russian air support, broke a cease-fire deal in the northwestern province of Idlib on Aug. 5, ordering an attack on Turkey-backed rebels and onetime al-Qaeda affiliates that control the area. The showdown is accelerating an exodus toward Turkey, which already shelters the largest number of Syrian refugees in the world.

Erdogan hopes to find common ground with Putin at a meeting near Moscow on Tuesday, before hosting Russian and Iranian leaders in Ankara on Sept. 16 to discuss ways to hold back the Syrian army. Erdogan has called the recent developments a “very serious security threat” to Turkey.

Putin and Erdogan will try to keep the crisis in Idlib from blowing up because they have many joint interests including arms sales, said Alexei Malashenko, senior analyst at the Berlin-based Dialogue of Civilizations research group co-founded by an ally of the Russian president.

“They’ll probably be able to avoid a nightmare,” he said by phone. “But this is a long-term problem that won’t go away.”

Competing Goals

Tough bargaining lies ahead with Russia, which says preserving the cease-fire in Idlib depends on the elimination of thousands of militants. Turkey has so far refrained from using force against the jihadists despite repeated calls from Moscow, relying on the presence of Turkish troops in Idlib as a deterrent against a large-scale attack on the Sunni Muslim-majority province.

Still, Turkey’s vulnerability was on full display when a recent air strike hit and halted its army convoy, virtually leaving a Turkish outpost cut off behind advancing Syrian forces.

Turkey Sees U.S. Deal as Start of Wider Purge of Kurdish Militia

As the Idlib offensive picked up, Turkey and the U.S. opened talks to carve out a narrow security zone in Syria’s northeast to push Kurdish YPG forces away from the Turkish border. Such a buffer is an irritant for Russia because it undercuts Assad’s control over Syrian territory.

‘Mounting Pressure’

Erdogan’s government opposes the YPG — which took control of swaths of northern Syria as security collapsed during the civil war — because of its links to a Kurdish separatist movement, the PKK, which Turkey has been fighting for over three decades.

For Assad, the immediate goal is to regain control over a highway that runs to Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial hub, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, a strategist at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey. “If he can succeed, that will further press the jihadists, rebels and refugees against Turkey,” he said.

While Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the war, they have cooperated in recent years.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia considers the situation in Idlib to be Turkey’s “area of responsibility.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday that Syrian army operations there don’t violate any agreements with Turkey.

Syrian Deal

Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone under a 2017 agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, which established military posts in the province to monitor any flare-ups. Turkey alone has 12 such outposts along the perimeters of Idlib.

“The regime is continuing its operations despite all our warnings to Russian officials at every level,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday. “No one should doubt that we will use our legitimate right to self-defense if our observation points or our presence there come under attack.”

More than half a million civilians have been huddling on the border with Turkey, which is already at tipping point with more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees. The frontier is now sealed with cement walls.

Despite the tensions, “there is no serious threat to economic cooperation between Turkey and Russia,” said Mesut Hakki Casin, a law professor at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University and member of the security and foreign policy board that advises Erdogan.

“It isn’t only Turkey’s responsibility to capture and bring terrorists to justice — it is the responsibility of all three countries,” he said, referring to Russia and Iran.


Turkish president to visit Russia next week

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a one-day-visit to Russia on Tuesday, his office said Friday. 

Earlier on Friday, Erdogan discussed the latest developments in war-weary Syria and Libya over the phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

In a phone call, Erdogan stressed that Assad regime’s violations and attacks in Idlib, northwestern Syria, is causing a “major humanitarian crisis”.

Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone. 

The de-escalation zone is currently home to some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces from throughout the war-weary country. 

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. 

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.