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Does President Assad's Key Speech Confirm Damascus is Still Sovereign?

© REUTERS / SANASyrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) new Defence Minister Hassan Turkmani (L) and former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass attend a ceremony at the unknown soldier monument in Damascus, Syria October 6, 2003.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) new Defence Minister Hassan Turkmani (L) and former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass attend a ceremony at the unknown soldier monument in Damascus, Syria October 6, 2003. - Sputnik International
Since the early stages of the conflict, Syria has relied on support from its strategic international allies and a range of militias for support. Some analysts have argued that, due to the increased influence of these groups and allies, such as Iran, Syria's ability to act as a sovereign state has diminished.

As of 2017, thousands of Hezbollah troops, and other foreign militiamen, fight alongside the Syrian Army and other pro-government groups, such as the National Defence Force (NDF). Several advisers from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are also embedded within Syria's armed forces.

"They went to fight the enemy and if they did not fight, this enemy would be inside the country. If they were not stopped, we would have to fight them in Kermanshah and Hamedan (provinces in Iran)," Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, defending his country's military involvement in Syria.

Such groups are active on many fronts in Syria, and have been the spearheading force on a number of operations; Hezbollah was instrumental to the retaking of the town of Yabrud in 2014, and they continue to play a major role in military operations against Islamist militants in Syria, especially near the Syria-Lebanon border. 

A government soldier with the Syrian flag - Sputnik International
Syria's Allies Have Been Key to Its Survival
According to some estimates, Iran has been providing Syria with up to US$35 billion worth of support annually. This has been provided in the form of thousands of barrels of oil per day, non-lethal aid and other means.

Given Syria's increasing reliance on its political partners, some may suggest that the Syrian government is no longer able to act independently, and may find itself acting against the national interest due to pressure from its partners.

Furthermore, due to the use of groups, Syrian and foreign, that are loosely affiliated with the government, President Bashar al-Assad's ability to maintain stability, and the enforcement of the law, has been questioned.

However, President Assad's recent speech, in which he addressed members of his cabinet and other officials, seems to contradict the above arguments, and suggests that the Syrian government is able to exert influence throughout Syria.

In his extended speech, which is over 30 minutes long, he stressed that everyone, including members of his government, high ranking officers in the army and the various intelligence directorates, should improve "their conduct," and must adhere to protocols, as any other member of the public would, e.g. stopping at checkpoints.

In the subsequent days, reports emerged that several vehicles belonging to members of the security apparatus were stopped and cautioned for not displaying number plates, and other infringements. A similar event, involving a relative of the Syrian Prime Minister, was also reported.

People walk near a Syrian national flag at the President bridge in Damascus, Syria March 14, 2016 - Sputnik International
A Look at Assad's Syria Following Nearly Six Years of Crisis

The measures, which President Assad is attempting to enforce to a higher standard, are designed to improve security, while also tackling nepotism and corruption. The President's speech, and following enforcement of the outlined practices, serves as an indication of the Syrian government's control in areas under its sanctity. It is now clear that President Assad intends to maintain stability, and keep members from affiliated groups, such as the NDF, in line.   

However, although his domestic influence has been corroborated, it remains unclear if Syria remains wholly independent of its regional and international allies when making key decisions. Over the duration of the ongoing crisis, there hasn't been any indication of Syria's allies forcing its hand in its policy-setting or decisions (against the national interest.)

In any case, this is less of a concern, as their interests are likely to continue to overwhelmingly be aligned in the future, as they have been for several decades. 

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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