Translation: Transcript of Putin's Meeting with Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu

March 15, 2016

President Vladimir Putin talks with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 14, 2016. (Reuters)

This transcript was posted on on March 14, 2016. It is translated and annotated by Frederick W, Kagan. (The official Kremlin translation is available at

Vladimir Putin held a working meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, in the course of which were discussed questions of the Syrian settlement.  The president ordered the start on March 15 of the withdrawal of the main[1] part of the Russian military group from the Syrian Arab Republic.

The head of state also ordered the Minister of Foreign Affairs to intensify the participation of the Russian Federation in the peace process to resolve the Syrian problem.

V. Putin:  Respected colleagues, I have invited you here in order that we can once more evaluate the situation surrounding the Syrian settlement.  And I invite the Minister of Defense to begin with his evaluation of what has occurred there.  Please.

S. Shuigu:  Respected Vladimir Vladimirovich!

In accord with your instruction of 30 September we began the conduct of operations in Syria.  Since then more than 9,000 sorties were completed, first massed strikes were conducted with various platforms at a range of more than 1,500 kilometers with rockets from air and naval bases.

In this time as a result of these strikes we seriously disrupted and in some areas even completely stopped the supply of resources to the terrorists by cutting off the traffic of hydrocarbons, cutting main routs of hydrocarbons to Turkey and the main routes by of supplying weapons and ammunition to the fighters.

The terrorists were driven from Latakia,[2] communications with Aleppo were reestablished,[3] Palymra was blocked[4]—military operations for its liberation from illegal armed groups are continuing.[5]  The greater part of the provinces of Hama and Homs were cleared, Kuweires airbase was relieved, which had been besieged for more than three years, control over the petrochemical fields near Palmyra was established:  three of the largest fields, which today have begun functioning in a normal way.

On the territory of Syria more than 2,000 bandits who had come from Russia were eliminated, including 17 field commanders.  Our aviation destroyed 209 oil supply, processing, and pumping locations, and also 2,912 means of moving oil products, or, as they are also called, “liquids.”

In all with the support of our aviation Syrian troops liberated 400 populated areas and more than 10,000 kilometers of territory.  They achieved a fundamental turning-point in the fight with terrorism.

The organizations drawn to this work as a result of the negotiations process—there are 42 such organizations today—plus populated areas, more than 40 of them, which have joined the ceasefire process, have started active operations in accord with the ceasefire process.

Ensuring control over the observation of this ceasefire process,[6] for this were assigned a considerable group of UAVs—more than 70, all means of intelligence-gathering, including signals intelligence and our satellite constellation.

I could continue with this report, Vladimir Vladimirovich, but I think that these are the main results of the work at this time.

V. Putin: Thank you.

Sergei Viktorovich, how is the peace process going?

S. Lavrov:  Respected Vladimir Vladimirovich!

The operation of our aerospace forces, along with the results achieved on the ground directly in the course of the military operations to suppress terrorists, have set conditions for the political process.

We have consequently set out to establish an intra-Syrian dialogue, also in accord with the decisions taken in 2012.  Our proposals had encountered the unwillingness of all of our partners to work on these issues.  But from the moment of the start of operations by our air forces the situation began to change.

Consequently steps were undertaken to begin with following your discussion with U.S. President Barack Obama:  a Russo-American group began to prepare a broader process of external facilitation of intra-Syrian negotiations.

The Syrian International Support Group was created, which was joined by all key players without exception including regional powers.  And the agreements that were reached in this group about the parameters of the Syrian political process were approved by two U.N. Security Council resolutions, which established a three-fold process: suspension of military operations[7], expansion of the reach of humanitarian convoys to previously besieged regions, and the start of intra-Syrian negotiations.

Thanks to these decisions, including your final agreement with President Obama, today finally in Geneva the intra-Syrian negotiations between a delegation of the government and delegations of a whole array of opposition groups have restarted.  The work was difficult, and we must still consider how all of these groups might gather at one table.  The UN representatives are still working individually with each of them, but the process will begin, and it is in all of our interests to make it stable and irreversible.

V. Putin:  Russia in a short time deployed a numerically small but extremely effective military group in Syria, including various branches of the armed forces and various means.  This included satellite intelligence, UAVs, strike packages from fighter and from ground-attack aviation.  Naval forces fired advanced weapons from two seas: the Mediterranean and the Caspian, with submarines working as well as surface ships.  We established a powerful system of air defense, including the most advanced S-400 complex.

The effective work of our military forces actually laid the foundations for the start of the peace process.  I consider that the tasks assigned to the Minister of Defense and the Russian Armed Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic were executed for the most part.[8]

With the participation of the Russian forces, with the participation of the Russian military group the Syrian troops and the patriotic forces of Syria managed in a pivotal way to transform the situation in the war with international terrorism and seize the initiative in almost all directions, creating conditions, as I have already said, for the start of the peace process.

In this task our service-members, both soldiers and officers, have shown the professionalism, courage, and knowledge to organize this military work far from their own territory, without having a common border with the theater of military operations.  They worked effectively over the course of almost a half-year, sustaining necessary supplies and control of military operations.

I consider that the tasks given to the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces executed for the most part, and therefore I order the Minister of Defense to begin tomorrow the withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the Syrian Arab Republic.  And I ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to intensify the participation of the Russian Federation in the organization of the peace process to resolve the Syrian problem.

As this occurs our bases—the naval base at Tartus and the air base at the Khmeimim airfield [Latakia]—will function as they do now.  They must be reliably defended from the land, sea, and air.[9]

This part of our military group has been located in Syria traditionally in the course of many previous years,[10]  and today it must perform a very important function of control over the ceasefire and the establishment of conditions for the peace process.

I hope that today’s decision will be a positive signal for all parties to the conflict. I hope that it will significantly increase the level of trust of all participants in the process of pacifying Syria and will facilitate the resolution of the Syrian question through peaceful means.

[1] This language is odd.  The Russian is основный [osnovnyi], which means “main” in a somewhat vague way rather than the words one might use for main (главный, glavnyi) or majority (большинство, bol’shinstvo) in a more technical or military sense.  But it is consistent across statements, and so it is very much intentional.  It is clearly a new framing and it is working, as media is using this language now.
[2] Various rebel groups had been advancing into core regime territory in Latakia, part of the Alawite heartland, which no doubt partly prompted Putin’s decision to intervene.  The regime conducted a series of operations under Russian air cover in the fall to regain control of most of the province.
[3] Opposition groups had cut the main line of supply to Aleppo, forcing the regime to use alternate supply routes prior to the relief of Kuweires air base east of the city in November and then the partial encirclement of the city by pro-regime forces in February.
[4] ISIS had been driving westward from Palmyra toward Homs and Damascus.
[5] Iranian media [Mashregh] reports that preparations for the attack on ISIS in Palmyra are ongoing.
[6] He uses two different phrases for the ceasefire process—перемирие (peremirie) and прекращение огня (prekrashchenie ognia).  The latter unquestionably means very literally “cease-fire.”  The former normally does also.  There’s nothing here that clearly translates “cessation of hostilities” per se, although peremirie can mean that if you want it to.
[7] This language (прекращение боевых действий, prekrashchenie boevykh deistvii) is more precisely “cessation of hostilities.”
[8] The nuance of language here may be important.  He does not say that they were fully accomplished—I would expect language for that more like цели вполне достигнуты (tseli vpolne dostignuty—goals fully achieved) rather than what he says here, which is задачи в целом выполнены (zadachi v tselom vypolneny).
[9] Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Defense and National Security Committee of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, explained that he expected the S-400 to remain in Syria, along with at least two battalions (800 men). “Российский ЗРК С-400 может задержаться в Сирии,” Interfax, 15 March 2016 (, last accessed 15 March 2016).
[10] Russian air forces have not operated out of Latakia for decades.  Russian use of the Tartus naval base was desultory.  This statement is a dramatic exaggeration for purposes of creating a new narrative of the history of the Russian presence in Syria.