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Syria's Assad and Russia's Putin at a meeting in Sochi
Image: Reuters/Kremlin/M. Klimentyev

Syria's Assad makes unexpected visit to Russia

May 18, 2018

Russian President Putin said the Syrian military's successes have created conditions for "the start of a political process on a major scale." Syria's Assad said progress would be made in the Astana peace talks.


Russian and Syrian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad met Thursday to discuss military and political issues as well as economic ties and reconstruction.

"With the start of the political process in its most active phase, foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory," said Putin, who has previously announced Russian military withdrawals from Syria, only to keep forces there. He did not specify which foreign forces he thought would or should leave the country.

"The next task, of course, is the economic recovery and humanitarian aid for those people in a difficult situation," Putin added.

Russia intervened in the Syrian war in September 2015, turning the war in favor of President Bashar Assad's regime. In recent months Syrian regime forces backed by Russia, Iran and militias have retaken several rebel-held areas including eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus.
Read more:  'Syria is a trap for Russia,' says Putin rival Grigory Yavlinsky

Opening political process

Moscow has dominated the political track of the Syrian war since intervening, cooperating with rebel-backer Turkey and Assad-supporter Iran in the Astana negotiations aimed at reducing fighting and reaching a political solution to the conflict. A parallel UN political track in Geneva backed by the United States is largely moribund after repeated failures to end the conflict. 

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Assad had decided to "send a delegation to the UN" to discuss reforming the country's constitution.

According to the statement released by the Kremlin, Assad said Syria is "opening the door to the political process we started some time ago."

Read more: Syria's Bashar Assad talks 'world war,' chemical weapons and political solution in new interview 

"We know it will not be easy because some countries do not want stability to return to Syria. But with you and other partners and friends, we will continue to make strong progress in the peace process," Assad was quoted as saying in the statement.

"Thanks to military successes, we are managing to normalize the situation in the country, opening the way for the return of many of our compatriots," the Syrian leader added.

Assad and Putin last met in December at a Russian air base in Syria. The Syrian president flew to meet Putin in Russia in November 2017 and October 2015.

The meeting in Sochi came a day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Putin on Friday in the Black Sea resort. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders this year.

Read more: Six stumbling blocks in German-Russian relations

cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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