Obama says he was 'encouraged' by a recent phone call from Vladimir Putin

Putin obamaREUTERS/Andres StapffU.S. President Barack Obama (R) laughs while talking with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin before the first session of the G20 Summit in Los Cabos June 18, 2012.

President Barack Obama sat down with Tom Friedman of The New York Times to make his case for the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, and his statements on Russia stood out as particularly rosy.

After saying that Russia ‘was a help’ on the deal despite tensions elsewhere, Obama added that he “was encouraged by the fact that Mr. Putin called me a couple of weeks ago,” pointing out that Putin initiated the call to talk about Syria.

“I think they get a sense that the [Bashar] Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory inside of Syria [to Sunni jihadist militias] and that the prospects for a [Sunni jihadist] takeover or rout of the Syrian regime is not imminent but becomes a greater and greater threat by the day,” Obama said. “That offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.”

There have been thinly sourced reports about Russia giving up on Assad at times during the four-plus-year long civil war, but this is by far the strongest suggestion yet.

Over the course of the 52-month Syrian conflict, Russia has provided the Assad regime with supplies — including guns, grenades, tank parts, fighter jets, advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range air defence missiles, military officers as advisers, diplomatic cover, and lots of cash.

Furthermore, Russia peddled conspiracy theories after forces loyal to Assad killed 1,400 people in four hours by dropping bombs filled with sarin nerve gas on a rebel-held suburb of the capital of Damascus.

Assad putin syria russiaREUTERS/Sergei KarpukhiPutin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shake hands as they meet in Moscow’s Kremlin December 19, 2006.

After the attack, Krishnadev Calamur of NPR detailed three primary reasons why Russia backs Assad:

1) Strategic: Syria’s port of Tartus hosts the only remaining international military base outside of the former Soviet Union.

2) Financial: As of June 2012, Russia’s economic interests in Syria totaled approximately $US20 billion, about $US5 billion of which are weapons sales.

3) Philosophical: Andranik Migranyan, director of the New York-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a nongovernmental organisation funded by private Russian donors that is considered close to the leadership in Moscow, told NPR’s Robert Siegel: “Russia’s position is very easy to understand.”

“First, Russia is against any regime change from outside of Syria or any other country because according to Russia, any attempt to change the regimes, they are ended up in a chaos and results are quite opposite what were the intentions,” Migranyan said. “This was proved in Iraq after the invasions of Americans over there. This was proved in Libya. This was proved in Egypt. And Russia is against principally this regime changes.”

Obama putin REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueU.S. President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013.

Given Russia’s staunch stance, Obama’s comments are fascinating. Is it true that Putin is willing to turn his back on an ally by helping negotiate Assad’s exit? Or is Obama putting pressure on the Kremlin?

A White House readout of a call between Obama and Putin on June 25 noted that, “The leaders discussed the increasingly dangerous situation in Syria, and underscored the importance of continued P5+1 unity in ongoing negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Read Obama’s full interview at the Times.

NOW WATCH: Why Putin is the most powerful man in the world

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.