Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al Assad in the Kremlin, backing the Syrian leader’s efforts to eliminate the last enclaves of rebels backed by the US and Turkey.
Under Western sanctions, Assad has maintained strong ties with Russia, which sent planes and troops to back his government in 2015.
The intervention helped turn the tide of the war against disparate rebel groups that had succeeded in capturing swathes of the country. Those fighters are now cornered in the province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey, which deployed troops to prevent the bastions falling to Assad.
A small contingent of US forces remains in Kurdish-controlled northeast, keeping much of Syria’s oil resources out of Damascus’s hands.
In the meeting, Putin called the continued presence of foreign troops not authorised by the Assad government Syria’s “main problem.” Russia has repeatedly called on the US and Turkey to
withdraw their forces.
“Our joint efforts have liberated the main, overwhelming territory of the Syrian Republic,” putting 90% of the country under the control of government troops, Putin said, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin website. The visit represents a rare foreign trip for the isolated Syrian leader.
Syria’s state news agency said the two leaders discussed the need to “complete” efforts to reach an agreement among Syrians without foreign intervention during an “extended summit” in which they were joined by their foreign ministers.
The Kremlin is hoping that the US pull-out from Afghanistan and Washington’s need for anti-terrorism cooperation may bolster the chances of some arrangement over Syria, said Moscow-based Middle East expert Elena Suponina.
“The goal now is to try and increase Assad’s control of Syria,” Suponina said by phone. Removing Turkey’s presence appears unlikely for now, she said.
Assad and Putin speak regularly and Putin last visited Syria in January 2020.