Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew into Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in what is believed to be his first trip abroad since start of the war in 2011.
The leaders discussed their joint military campaign against rebels in Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, calling the meeting a “working visit”.
The Syrian presidency confirmed that Assad and Putin held three meetings in which Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu were present.
After the meetings, Putin said he was hopeful that a solution may be reached for the war in Syria, where Russia has been carrying out air strikes since the end of September.
“This decision can be made only by the Syrian people. Syria is a friendly country. And we are ready to support it not only militarily but politically as well.”
It appears the Kremlin waited for the Syrian leader to return home before breaking the news of the one-day visit.
The Syrian leader stressed the importance of “further political steps,” according to a Kremlin statement.
He thanked Putin for his decision to launch its air campaign in Syria on September 30, Russia’s first military foray outside the former Soviet Union since its occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.
“I need to say that the political steps which Russia has taken since the start of the crisis prevented the events in Syria from developing along a more tragic scenario,” Assad said in quotes released by the Kremlin.
“Terrorism which has now spread through the region would have consumed much larger areas and would have spread throughout much more territory if it were not for your actions and your decisions,” he said in comments translated into Russian.
About 250,000 people have been killed since the conflict first began in March 2011, and half the population has been made homeless.
Putin said it was the Syrian people that should decide the fate of their country.
“At the end of the day a long-term settlement can be achieved on the basis of a political process with the participation of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups,” the Kremlin strongman said.
“And ultimately, the final word no doubt should rest solely with the Syrian people.”
‘Assad’s departure needed’
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday said a transition was needed in Syria which guaranteed the departure of Assad.
Davutoglu said there was no change in Turkey’s position that Assad’s government had lost legitimacy.
He was responding to questions from reporters after senior government officials said on Tuesday that Ankara was ready to accept a political transition in which Assad remains in symbolic power for six months before leaving office.