MENA WATCH: Putin & Syria’s al-Assad hold talks in Moscow on rebel areas

Syria’s most powerful ally in the decade-long conflict, Russia’s Vladimir Putin denounced ‘foreign forces’ still fighting in the country.14 Sep 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad have met in Moscow to discuss cooperation between their militaries and how to gain control of the last rebel-held areas in Syria.

The Monday night meeting between the two presidents was the first since they held a summit in the Syrian capital in January last year.

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“The main problem, in my view, is that foreign armed forces remain in certain regions of the country without the approval of the United Nations and without your permission,” Putin told al-Assad, according to a Kremlin statement on Tuesday.

Syrian state TV described it as a long meeting and said the two were later joined by Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad and Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss mutual relations and “fighting terrorism”.

Al-Assad’s most powerful ally in the decade-long Syrian conflict, Putin last received the Syrian leader in Russia in 2018 at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Russia’s air force played a critical role in turning the tide of the Syrian war in al-Assad’s favour after it deployed there in 2015, helping him recover most territory lost to armed groups.

However, significant parts of Syria remain out of state control, with Turkish forces deployed in much of the north and northwest – the last major bastion of anti-al-Assad rebels – and American forces in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.

‘Control 90 percent of the territory’

Al-Assad, who has also been backed by Iran during the conflict, has made few trips abroad since the war began in 2011.

“I am happy to meet you in Moscow, six years after our joint operations to fight terrorism,” Syrian TV quoted al-Assad as saying.

Putin told al-Assad foreign forces in Syria without a UN decision were a hindrance to its consolidation, the Kremlin statement said.

Putin also congratulated him on winning a fourth term in office in a presidential election in May.

“Terrorists sustained very serious damage and the Syrian government, headed by you, controls 90 percent of the territories,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin said al-Assad thanked the Russian leader for humanitarian aid to Syria and for his efforts to halt the “spread of terrorism”.