Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Hemeimeem air base, Syria on 11 December 2017. (Photo Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/ Sputnik/Kremlin Pool)
Syrian President Bashar al Assad will visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in mid-March, according to an unnamed source in the Russian presidency, Vedomosti newspaper reported on 6 March.
Russia observers anticipate that Assad and Putin will discuss bilateral relations, the Ukrainian issue, and the normalization of relations between Damascus and Ankara.
Assad’s visit may also aim to obtain support in the face of the energy crisis and the consequences of last month’s devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkiye, RT reported.
In December last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested a series of three-way meetings between Ankara, Moscow, and Damascus in an effort to restore ties with the Syrian government, ten years after relations broke off between them.
Erdogan and Turkish intelligence played a key role in Washington’s efforts to topple the Syrian government between 2011 and 2018, including by providing support to al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups, such as the Nusra Front.
The Turkish government also relied on Nusra and ISIS to prevent Syrian Kurds of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from uniting the three Kurdish majority cantons in northern Syria into a unified Kurdish autonomous zone, while the Turkish army invaded Syria directly multiple times, including during Operation Peace Spring in early 2018 and Operation Olive Branch in late 2019 for the same purpose.
Erdogan’s overtures to Damascus come at a time when Ankara continues to demand a “security corridor” along the Syrian border and has threatened to once again send Turkish troops into Syria.
Tasnim News Agency reports that Nikolai Sukhov, a senior researcher at the Center for Middle East Studies at IMEMO RAS, believes that the normalization of relations between Ankara and Damascus through Moscow’s mediation will certainly be on the negotiating agenda as Assad visits Moscow. The expert concluded that the Turks show interest in continuing the dialogue, although Syria sets “difficult” conditions regarding the way the Turks should act in the north of the country.
Sukhov also believes the provision of humanitarian aid to Damascus following the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck both Syria and Turkiye last month will also be on the negotiating table in Moscow. The issue of fuel supplies and attracting investments to Syria is also important, according to Sukhov, and therefore, the leaders may discuss bilateral trade issues.
Kyrill Semyonov, an expert in the Russian Council on International Affairs, stressed the importance of cooperation between the parties, especially since Damascus has begun to maintain active contacts with Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries.
In the wake of the earthquake, political differences between former enemies have been put aside as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar have supplied aid to Damascus and called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab political fold despite opposition from Washington.