A recent image that circulated of Bashar al-Assad at the Hemeimeem base exposed the regime head to criticism and scorn, but it was not the first time that Moscow has released such an image, and it will not be the last. It reflects the disrespectful and belittling view that Moscow holds of Damascus.
The image, which Syrians described as a “humiliation for Assad,” captured social media over the last two days. It was taken during Assad’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Hemeimeem base in the Lattakia countryside in January 2017. The picture shows Assad, standing with Russian officers waiting for Putin to finish delivering his speech.
The timing of the publication of the image has raised a number of questions, including whether Moscow intentionally circulated it after Assad appeared to challenge his allies in a recent speech, when he discussed international efforts to form a constitutional committee.
Assad has recently been subject to similar positions, whether during his meetings with Putin, or with other Russian officials. In one of the most prominent circulated by Arab and international media, Russia officers appear to hold back Assad from catching up to Putin at the Hemeimeem base as the latter marches ahead to deliver his speech—an unusual scene in diplomatic ceremonies, especially given that Russia views Assad as the President of Syria.
In a continuation of this, Assad was forced to stand with other Russian officers for five minutes, while Putin finished giving his address to the officers.
In another scene that drew social media’s gaze, Putin welcomed Assad to military base, which was in Syria, by saying, “Welcome honorable guests.”
In June 2016, Russia called Assad to the Hemeimeem base without informing him of which Russian officials he would meet. Russian media showed a video clip of Assad at the base meeting with the Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.
It appeared that Assad was surprised by the meeting, telling the Russian official that his visit was a “pleasant surprise,” and saying during the meeting that, “I did not know that you would come personally.” This sparked ridicule of Assad and the way in which he appeared during the meeting with the minister.
About a year before this incident, Russia invited Assad to visit Putin in Russia. This visit did not help to create a positive image for Assad. Analysts described the visit as degrading for a number of reasons, including the fact that the regime flag was not present inside the meeting room, an unprecedented measure during the visit of presidents to one another.
Ridicule on Russian Media
While Russian media has focused on the achievements of the Russian army in Syria they have regularly presented Assad as a man who was saved by his allies, and who without Moscow would have been toppled by the opposition.
Throughout the history of Russian-Syrian relations, the Russian media has refrained from publicly speaking ill of Assad; expect when in February 2016, the Kommersant newspaper, which is close to the Russian administration, quoted Alexey Malashenko, the head of the Russian Carnegie Center, as saying that Assad’s behavior was like a “tail trying to wag the dog.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.