- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made an unannounced visit to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin.
- The two presidents discussed bringing the Syrian Civil War to an end ahead of peace talks in Geneva.
- Assad praised Putin, thanking and hugging him for his support.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Russia on Monday to discuss a political settlement aimed at bringing a peaceful end to his country’s civil war, which is in its seventh year.
Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of peace talks in Geneva, where the two will engage in negotiations with Iran and Turkey, two of the conflict’s warring factions. The goal is to get Assad to agree on a peaceful way forward. During their meeting, Assad praised Putin, hugging and thanking him for his support.
“I passed to [Putin] and all Russian people our greetings and gratitude for all of the efforts that Russia made to save our country,” Assad said.
Russia became directly involved militarily in Syria in late 2015, propping up the Assad regime and turning the tide in Assad’s favor. With Russia’s support, the Syrian government has regained much of its grip of control over the country. Putin said that Russia would further scale down its military involvement now that the government has more control and the Islamic State group has lost most of its territory in the country.
“Regarding our joint operation to fight terrorists in Syria, this military operation is indeed coming to an end,” he told Assad. “I’m pleased to see your willingness to work with everyone who wants peace and settlement.”
Also on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump spoke with Putin over the phone for nearly an hour to discuss the Syrian talks, among other issues. Trump has defended his friendly relationship with Putin, which he says is necessary to make progress in the fight against terrorism. But he has diverged with Putin in Syria, most notably when he authorized a missile strike on a government-controlled airfield in April in response to a chemical attack.
Close to 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions more have fled as refugees.