Russian president Vladimir Putin lands in Damascus on unannounced visit

Russian president makes second visit to Syria since his military joined country’s civil war

Richard Hall
Beirut
Tuesday 07 January 2020 15:17 GMT
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Russian president Vladimir Putin lands in Damascus on unannounced visit

Russian president Vladimir Putin has arrived in Damascus on a surprise visit to meet his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Putin met Mr Assad at a Russian military base in the capital, where the two leaders discussed the military situation in the country, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

Moscow has been a key backer of Mr Assad for years, formally entering Syria’s civil war on his side in 2015. That intervention was credited with turning the tide of the conflict in his favour, allowing his forces to recapture most of Syria.

“During his talks with Assad, Putin noted that it is now possible to state with conviction that a huge distance has been covered on the path to restoring Syrian statehood and the territorial integrity of the country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, quoted by the Russian Interfax news agency, said.

The visit is Mr Putin’s second to Syria since his country’s military forces joined the civil war. In 2017, he visited a Russian air base in Latakia, in Syria’s northwest, where he announced victory in the conflict and said most Russian forces would be returning home.

The Russian president arrives in Damascus at a time of heightened regional tensions following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the US.

Syria is a key ally of Iran, and Iranian forces have fought alongside the Syrian government in the civil war. Soleimani, one of the key figures in the war as the architect of Iranian military operations in the Middle East, had just arrived in Iraq from Syria when he was killed by a US drone at Baghdad airport on Friday.

— With agencies

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