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Support for Putin's bombing campaign among Syrians in Russia

Syrians living in Russia say President Bashar al-Assad is right to try and wipe out all the opposition - not just the Islamic State group
A Syrian man holding up portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian counterpart Valdimir Putin (AFP)
By
by Maria ANTONOVA and Naira DAVLASHYAN
 
From far away in his adopted homeland of Russia, Syrian Wail Dzhinid has watched approvingly as President Vladimir Putin's bombing campaign in his war-torn native country has unfolded on his television screen.
 
Dzhinid, who has lived in Moscow for over two decades and has a Russian wife and two sons, says Moscow's airstrikes in Syria are "very good" and help the Syrian people rather than the Kremlin's ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
 
While vast numbers of Syrians have embarked on the dangerous voyage to seek safety in the European Union, those in the small community living in Russia mostly have longstanding diplomatic or family ties to the country.
 
And like the government in their new home, many of them are staunch supporters of Assad and echo the Kremlin's talking points on the conflict.
 
Since 30 September, Russian jets and warships have launched strikes on Assad's request against what Moscow says are Islamic State militants and other "terrorist" groups.
 
Countries taking part in the US-led coalition against IS have accused Putin of seeking to wipe out moderate opposition and say the move to support Assad will only fuel the conflict.
 
Dzhinid, speaking to AFP in his Moscow home, complete with Middle Eastern-style furnishings and a photo showing him shaking hands with Assad, insisted: "People [in Syria] are very happy, they are glad that Russians have finally agreed to help." 
 
Sometimes wiping away tears when talking about the war, Dzhinid, who heads the Syrian Association in Russia, and his wife Roxana wholeheartedly embrace Assad's view that no armed opposition to the regime is moderate and all should be destroyed along with the jihadists.
 
"Some people don't understand why Putin spends taxpayers' money [on Syria strikes]," said Roxana. "You think Syria is somewhere far away? No, it's very close. And when these people will be here cutting you up, you will sing a different tune."
 
'Revenge' against Russia?
 
Syria's diaspora in Russia is estimated to number around 40,000, small compared with some countries but reflecting ties that go back to close relations between the Soviet authorities and Assad's father, Hafez, whom he succeeded as president.
 
The Soviet Union struck a landmark security accord with Syria in 1980, which Russian officials now say gives a legal path for Moscow to send its airforce to the country to aid Assad's troops on the ground.
 
Though the Dzhinid family habitually travelled to Syria, where they have a home near Hama, these trips have become more dangerous. 
 
"Each time we go there, bombs fall just several metres from the house," said Roxana. "Every day we watch funerals."
 
Despite the ties between the nations, very few of the more than four million Syrians who have fled the nearly five-year conflict have chosen to head for Russia. 
 
One young Christian Syrian woman who arrived in August said she now feared Moscow's involvement in the war meant the violence could eventually follow her to Russia.
 
"Russia risks provoking revenge," said 25-year-old Rana, who lives with relatives. "Are there guarantees that the terrorists won't want payback from the Russians and organise attacks here?"
 
Khasan Khater, who came from Damascus in 2012 with his family and $500 in his pocket, said he fled the conflict here only due to his dual nationality. Even as a fluent Russian speaker, he has faced his share of difficulties.
 
"In Europe the government offers help, and in Russia people are on their own, the government puts up barriers so that people don't come," he said.
 
The 35-year-old engineer, who has a Syrian father and Russian mother, has worked in real estate development, helped design Moscow's subway stations, and eventually opened a bar in the city centre.
 
"The stereotype of Russia is that it's an unfriendly country that is intolerant and aggressive, both in its weather and its treatment of people," he said.
 
There is no love lost between him and the Russian bureaucracy seeking bribes and stalling business with red tape, but Khater completely supports the Kremlin's campaign as well, saying the more forces join up in fighting IS the better.
 
"If Europe, America, Russia, China start dealing with [militants] it will only be better," he said. At the same time, he criticised the West for differentiating between the jihadists and moderate opposition.
 
"Anybody who is opposed to the government is a militant who can switch allegiances at any moment: they fight where the money is better," he said. 
 
"There can be no moderate opposition. Maybe there is moderate opposition in Europe, but in the Middle East it's impossible," he said. "Moderate people don't take up arms at all."