Vladimir Putin, Syria’s most powerful ally in the decade-long conflict, denounced that ‘foreign forces’ are still fighting in the country.
Vladimir Putin of Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria met in Moscow to discuss cooperation between their armies and how to gain control of the last rebel-held areas in Syria.
Monday night’s meeting between the two presidents was the first since they held a summit in the Syrian capital in January last year.
“The main problem, in my opinion, is that foreign armed forces remain in certain regions of the country without the approval of the United Nations and without its permission,” Putin told al-Assad, according to a Kremlin statement on Tuesday.
Syrian state television described it as a lengthy meeting, saying the two were later joined by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss mutual relations and the “fight against terrorism”.
Putin, Al-Assad’s most powerful ally in the decade-long Syrian conflict, last hosted the Syrian leader in Russia in 2018 at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Russia’s air force played a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Syrian war in favor of al-Assad after he was deployed there in 2015, helping him regain most of the territory lost to armed groups.
However, significant parts of Syria remain outside state control, with Turkish forces deployed across much of the north and northwest, the last major stronghold of anti-al-Assad rebels, and US forces in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.
‘Control 90 percent of the territory’
Al-Assad, who has also been backed by Iran during the conflict, has made few trips abroad since the war began in 2011.
“I am happy to meet you in Moscow, six years after our joint operations to combat terrorism,” Syrian television quoted al-Assad as saying.
Putin said al-Assad’s foreign forces in Syria without a UN decision were an obstacle to his consolidation, the Kremlin statement said.
Putin also congratulated him on winning a fourth term in the May presidential elections.
“The terrorists suffered very serious damage and the Syrian government, led by you, controls 90 percent of the territories,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin.
The Kremlin said al-Assad thanked the Russian leader for humanitarian aid to Syria and for his efforts to stop the “spread of terrorism.”
He praised what he called the success of the Russian and Syrian armies in the “liberation of the occupied territories” from Syria.
‘Completing the release’
Al-Assad also described the sanctions imposed by some nations on Syria as “anti-human” and “illegitimate.”
The United States tightened sanctions against Syria last year, saying they were aimed at forcing al-Assad to stop the war and agree to a political solution.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the two leaders discussed cooperation between the Syrian and Russian armies to “combat terrorism and complete the liberation of land that is still under the control of terrorist organizations.”
In recent weeks, Syrian opposition activists said Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country. The region is home to some four million people, many of them internally displaced by the conflict.
A Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement came into effect last week. to end a government siege and heavy fighting in the southern city of Deraa. The agreement put rebel-held areas in the city under government control for the first time since 2013.
Russia’s political and military support for Syria, where it maintains military bases, has been a particular sticking point in Moscow’s relations with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow for bolstering al-Assad’s government.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with protests against the government and then escalated into a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half of the country’s 23 million prewar inhabitants, including five. million refugees out of the country.