Syria's Assad makes surprise visit to Moscow

2015-10-21 17:01
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, arrive for their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow. (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, arrive for their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow. (AP)

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Moscow/Beirut - The Kremlin unveiled on Wednesday that beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad travelled to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

This was the first official visit by the Syrian president outside Syria since the uprising against his regime started in 2011.

Assad and Putin discussed the situation in war-torn Syria on Tuesday evening during talks that had not been made public in advance, the Kremlin spokesperson said.

Putin was "informed in detail by his Syrian colleague about the situation in Syria and about perspective plans", spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told state media.

Assad told Putin that "if it were not for your actions and decisions, the terrorism that is spreading through the region now would have made even greater gains and spread to even wider territories", according to a Kremlin transcript.

Russia began a bombing campaign against militant groups in Syria last month to support Assad's government, one of Russia's closest allies in the Middle East.

"I want to express our tremendous gratitude to the Russian leadership and people for the help they are providing Syria," Assad told Putin, according to the transcript posted on the Kremlin's website.

The Syrian president said the military strikes were "essential" because "terrorism is a real obstacle on the road to reaching a political settlement".

"We all know that any military action must be followed by political steps," he told Putin.

Middle Eastern powers, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have called for Assad to resign as part of a political solution to the conflict, which began as protests against his rule evolved into riots amid a government crackdown.

Russia believes that instability in the Syrian government could allow extremist militant groups, including Islamic State, to take control by force.

Assad expressed his hope to Putin that they would be able to "vanquish terrorism and continue working together to rebuild [Syria] economically and politically and ensure a peaceful life for everyone".

Official Syrian state TV said the visit was the result of an invitation by Putin.

Citing the presidency, Syrian radio reported that Assad had returned to the capital Damascus after a short visit to Moscow.

The talks dealt with the "fight against terrorist extremist groups" and with Russian air support for attacks by Syrian troops on the ground.

The state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA) said that Assad also discussed with his Russian counterpart "Syrian Arab Army plans" regarding the ongoing battles on the ground.

"Terrorism is the main obstacle facing a political solution in Syria," Assad was quoted by SANA as saying.

Syrian opposition figures criticised the visit.

"This visit, which happened in total secrecy, shows that Assad does not trust the people around him," Ahmed Kamel, an opposition figure, told dpa.

"Putin wants to show the world, through this visit, that he has an upper hand on Syria and that he holds all the solutions concerning the Syrian crisis," added Kamel, who belongs to the Syrian National Coalition.

Kamel said Assad had not left Syria since March 15, 2011.

Read more on:    bashar assad  |  vladimir putin  |  russia  |  syria

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