Assad, Putin discuss post-war SyriaPublished: 11/22/17 @ 12:00
On a surprise trip to Russia, Syria’s Bashar Assad discussed potential new peace initiatives for post-war Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin who declared that Russia’s two-year military campaign in Syria is wrapping up, the Kremlin said Tuesday.
Moscow released footage of Assad warmly embracing Putin, who hosted him in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, ahead of a summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran and a new round of Syria peace talks in Geneva later this month.
The meeting was unannounced and the Kremlin did not make it public until Tuesday morning.
“I passed on to [Putin] and all Russian people our greetings and gratitude for all of the efforts that Russia made to save our country,” Assad told Russia’s top brass in televised remarks.
Assad has only ventured outside his war-ravaged nation twice since the conflict began – both times to Russia. This week’s visit to meet Putin is his second since the crisis began in March 2011 leading to a civil war that has killed some 400,000 people and resulted in millions of refugees.
The first was in October 2015, weeks after Russia launched its military campaign in Syria to shore up Assad’s forces, which turned the war in favor of Assad.
The meeting in Sochi, which lasted three hours, preceded a summit between the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey set for Wednesday at the same venue. Iran and Russia have been Assad’s main backers while Turkey supports the opposition.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian president had previously assured the leaders of Turkey and Iran that “Russia will work with Syrian leadership to prepare the groundwork for the understandings that could be reached in Sochi on Wednesday and to make sure that agreements that could be reached would be viable.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if the Kremlin put any pressure on Assad to accept a new deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran – or whether that deal would involve Assad staying on as president once the war is over – but Assad signaled his intention to hold his ground in future Syria peace talks.
“We count on Russia’s support to keep foreign players from interfering into the political process,” he said during the talks with Putin. Assad is believed to have left Sochi after the meeting and returned to Damascus.
Asked whether Putin and Assad have talked about the Syrian president’s future in post-war Syria, Peskov said “possible options for political settlement have been discussed” and added that “only the Syrian people could determine Assad’s role.”
Despite pressure from other nations that Assad step down, Moscow has insisted that it is up to the Syrian people to vote him in or out.