(Photo credit: Vladimir Gerdo/TASS)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad held a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 15 March, following his arrival in Russia a day earlier on his first visit outside of West Asia since last month’s earthquake devastated Syria.
Assad, who headed a large Syrian ministerial delegation, was received at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport on 14 March by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and other high-level officials, including Syria’s envoy in the country, Bashar al-Jaafari.
The visit was meant to center around a number of aspects, including an enhancement of Russian-Syrian cooperation, issues related to the political and humanitarian situation in Syria, and the war in Ukraine, all of which were discussed between the two presidents.
The talks “will pave the way for a new phase” in relations between Russia and Syria, Assad told Putin during the meeting.
The Syrian president expressed his gratitude for Russia’s quick response to the earthquake and its assistance to Syria in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.
“We, as loyal friends, are providing support to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” Putin said.
Assad also thanked Putin for his country’s firm stance with Syria “in the war on terrorism,” and Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian war, which began in 2015 and contributed to Syria’s recapturing of large segments of the country from extremist groups.
The Syrian president also welcomed the expansion of Russia’s military presence in his country.
“If Russia has the desire to … increase their number, it is a technical or logistical issue … we think that expanding the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” Assad was quoted to have said in an interview with Russian media.
During the meeting, the issue of Turkish-Syrian relations was also addressed. A four-way meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of Syria, Turkiye, Russia, and Iran is scheduled to take place on 16 March in order to move forward with the Russian-sponsored effort to normalize ties between Ankara and Damascus. Damascus has repeatedly affirmed that a continuation of these talks must depend on Turkiye’s willingness to end its occupation in Syria.
The meeting between Assad and Putin emphasized “the absolute priority of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” in this regard, according to a Russian presidential spokesman.
This was Assad’s first visit to Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.
In an interview with Russian outlet Sputnik, Assad reaffirmed Damascus’ stance with Moscow in the Ukraine war, as well as its recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the Donbass republics. He also condemned western nations for their support of “Nazis … and terrorists” in Ukraine.
Since the start of the Ukraine war, militants from extremist groups operating in Syria have made their way to Ukraine to fight alongside Ukrainian forces against the Russian military. Russian and Syrian officials have accused Washington of facilitating this.