By NEIL MacFARQUHAROCT. 21, 2015
Credit Pool photo by Alexey Druzhinin
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called his counterpart, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to Moscow for an unannounced visit to discuss their joint military campaign and a future political transition in Syria, the Kremlin announced on Wednesday.
The surprise visit — evidently Mr. Assad’s first outside Syria since the civil war began there in 2011 — highlighted how the political and military horizon of the long war of attrition has shifted drastically because of Russia’s intervention.
In the brief remarks released by the Kremlin, Mr. Putin told Mr. Assad that the military and political issues were linked.
“On the question of a settlement in Syria, our position is that positive results in military operations will lay the basis for then working out a long-term settlement, based on a political process that involves all political forces, ethnic and religious groups,” Mr. Putin said. “Ultimately, it is the Syrian people alone who must have the deciding voice here.”
In his response, Mr. Assad said that Russian intervention had halted the spread of terrorism and that a political transition could come after that threat was addressed.
“If it were not for your actions and decisions, the terrorism that is spreading through the region now would have made even greater gains and spread to even wider territories,” Mr. Assad said, according to the Kremlin transcript.
“We all know that any military action must be followed by political steps,” Mr. Assad said, calling the threat from terrorism a “real barrier” to any political settlement.
A summary of the discussion, also carried by the official Syrian news agency, said Mr. Assad demanded that the United States and regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar should halt support for his opponents.
“Of course, the whole nation wants to participate in deciding the destiny of their state, not only the ruling party,” Mr. Assad said.
Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, would not comment on whether the two men broached the topic of Mr. Assad’s future during the talks, which Mr. Peskov described as “lengthy.”
The most obvious focus of the talks was “the fight against terrorist and extremist groups, issues of the continuation of the Russian operation supporting the offensive of the Syrian military,” Mr. Peskov said.
Just a day earlier, Turkey, one of Mr. Assad’s most implacable critics, said it would accept the Syrian leader’s staying in office for the first six months of a political transition, although its prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told reporters on Wednesday that Turkey’s insistence that Mr. Assad must go had not changed.
The United States and its regional allies, as well as central factions of the opposition in exile, reject the idea of a significant role for Mr. Assad in any transition. Those differences have stymied international efforts to negotiate a political settlement.
Aside from the obvious issues of mutual concern given the current military alliance of Russia and Syria, the meeting was another chance to emphasize Russia’s re-emergence as a crucial player in the Middle East. Part of the inspiration for Russian interference in Syria was to break out of the isolation imposed on Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.
In the remarks published on the Kremlin website, Mr. Putin highlighted the fact that he was the one who called the meeting and that Russia wanted to be involved in the military and political goals.
“Despite the dramatic situation in your country, you have responded to our request and come here to Russia, and we thank you for this,” Mr. Putin said.
He added, “We are ready to make our contribution not only to the military operations and the fight against terrorism, but also to the political process.”
He said Russia would do this in coordination with other global powers.
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Thinker 10 minutes ago
Trblmkr asks the right question about this quoted passagee:”‘…the meeting with Mr. Assad will put new pressure on the Obama administration…
Rudolf 12 minutes ago
Putin obviously is the new ruler of Syria. Assad has become his assistant. Obama has proven himself as the weak link in solving Middle…
Bob H 12 minutes ago
We have made Putin the most powerful man in the world.His card determines the outcome of every hand that is played in each crisis around the…
The lack of a response from Washington to Russia’s initiatives on Syria has been a disappointment to the Kremlin, and the meeting with Mr. Assad will put new pressure on the Obama administration to engage. Russia expressed displeasure on Tuesday that an agreement signed between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense earlier in the day had not gone further in forging cooperation in Syria.
Mr. Assad has not made any public visits abroad since the uprising began in March 2011, with diplomats long speculating that, if he left, those around him might overthrow him. But the new Russian support, including this high-profile meeting in Moscow, has clearly given him extra clout and a new political lease on life.
“He’ll return to Damascus temporarily reinforced by the Russian military and publicly expressed political support,” said a Western diplomat in the Middle East, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to the rules of his ministry.
Mr. Putin has also made a habit of staking out policy positions or taking other actions that appear to contradict or at least supplant his previous statements. He was playing down the chance of military action in the days before his air force started bombing in Syria on Sept. 30.
He and other Russian officials have also repeatedly said that they are not married to the idea of Mr. Assad as leader of Syria. But the meeting gave Mr. Assad a certain endorsement, and it also pointed to Russia as the crucial player in any future political transition in Syria.
Analysts say they believe that Russia hopes to shore up Mr. Assad’s power over key parts of central Syria and then push the fight against Islamic State strongholds in the West. Russia and Syria tend to group the armed opposition organizations, including both the Islamic State and rebels backed by the West, as Islamic terrorists.
Mr. Putin repeated his previous statements that at least 4,000 men from Russia and the former Soviet republics who have gone to Syria to fight for the Islamic State represent a real danger should they come home. That argument has fueled the popularity of the war at home. He has also sought to use Syria to burnish Russia’s credentials as a global power and his own as a central figure in solving international problems.During the visit, senior Russian officials joined Mr. Putin and Mr. Assad for dinner including the defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu; the prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev; and the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
The Moscow meeting was the first encounter between the two presidents since Russian forces began airstrikes in Syria, and it is believed to be their first meeting since 2007. Diplomats have said previously that there was little warmth or chemistry between the two men.
Although the air campaign has been publicly portrayed as an effort to turn back Islamic State militants, the main targets thus far have been the opposition units that most directly threaten Mr. Assad.
Under the cover provided by about 50 Russian military aircraft, the Syrian armed forces, along with fighters from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, have been pressing a ground offensive in and around important central cities, including Aleppo.
Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow.