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For the first time since 1944, a Russian head of state is visiting Syria.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, will meet Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus during a three day visit to the region.

Relations between the two countries had stalled after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but now Russia is hoping to play a broader role in the Middle East.

Trade between Syria and Russia has grown to more than $2bn in recent years, which accounts for around 20 per cent of Russia's total business with the Arab world, and is likely to increase.
 
In addition, the two presidents are expected to discuss a broad range of issues including military cooperation, the Middle East conflict, and regional security.
 
It all highlights Russia's growing desire to expand its political role in the region.

But does that put it on a collision course with Washington? And what does it mean for peace in the region? 
 
Joining the programme are George Jabour, a former advisor to Hafez al-Assad, the former Syrian president, Dmitri Babich, a political analyst with Russia Profile magazine, and Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

This episode of Inside Story aired from Monday, May 10, 2010.

Source: Al Jazeera