Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in the Russian resort of Sochi, the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday. The two leaders discussed the fight against terrorism and the prospects of a rapid political solution to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“On November 20 talks took place between the president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the president of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar Assad, who was in Russia on a working visit,” a Kremlin statement said.
What was said at the meeting? Syrian and Russian news agencies confirmed the meeting took place, reporting that both leaders agreed the military operations in Syria were “coming to an end.” According to reports and statements issued by the Kremlin:
- Putin congratulated Assad on his “fight against terrorism,” stressing that the Syrian people “are approaching victory over terrorists”
- The Russian leader claimed there was still a long way to go for complete victory over terrorists, but that “as far as our joint work in Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up”
- Assad said the situation on the ground now allowed for a political process and that Syria “counts on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in that process.”
Why this is significant? Both leaders are in agreement that the main focus in Syria should now switch from the battlefield to the negotiating table. The bloody conflict has been raging in Syria since 2011. An uprising that turned into a civil war has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced millions of citizens.
According to Russian state news agency SANA, the meeting also provided Putin and Assad the opportunity to plan ahead for Thursday’s Syria summit in Sochi, where Putin is set to discuss the crisis with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. Russia and Iran have been Assad’s main backers in the Syria conflict, while Turkey has supported the opposition forces.
What is the state of the Syrian opposition? Syrian opposition forces, meanwhile, are in a state of disarray, as the US and its allies have come to terms with the notion of a Syrian ceasefire deal that doesn’t demand Assad’s immediate removal from power.
On Monday, just two days before delegates from the opposition were due to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss a unified position ahead of upcoming peace talks, chief negotiator Riyad Hijab resigned in protest to the current state of affairs. Foreign powers were carving up Syria and brokering side deals aimed at “prolonging the life of Bashar Assad’s regime,” Hijab claimed.
What happens next? The Kremlin reported that a Russian special envoy will oversee a meeting of Syrian opposition in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and Wednesday. Putin, for his part, said he planned to telephone the Qatari Emir, US President Donald Trump as well as regional leaders in the coming days.
As well as Thursday’s Syria summit in the Black Sea resort city, UN-sponsored peace talks are also due to resume in Geneva next week.
Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran are also sponsoring separate ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, the most recent of which took place at the beginning of this month.