MOSCOW (AA): Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin late Tuesday in Moscow, the Kremlin said Wednesday.
“The Syrian President, al-Assad, visited Moscow yesterday night and met President Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Peskov said that the two leaders discussed Russian airstrikes in Syria, the regime’s operations and counterterrorism cooperation.
He declined to comment on whether they discussed Assad’s future in a potential resolution to the Syrian civil war.
According to the Kremlin website, the Russian president said that terrorism in the Middle East and the destabilization of the region represented a concern for many countries.
“This is a matter of concern for Russia too given that, sadly, people from the former Soviet Union, around 4,000 people at least, have taken up arms and are fighting on Syrian territory against the government forces,” he said.
Putin added that “positive results in military operations” would pave the way for a political settlement in Syria.
“Ultimately, it is the Syrian people alone who must have the deciding voice here,” he said.
Assad thanked Russia for its support “within the framework of international law”.
He said that military action against terrorism was a priority, adding: “Of course, the entire nation wants to take part in deciding the country’s fate and not just the government”.
The meeting came after the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement Tuesday to “deconflict” air operations above Syria.
The Syrian opposition described the visit as a propaganda mission to boost Assad’s regime.
“Despite the intense bombardments with the most modern fighter jets and rockets, Russia tries to make political propaganda as they have seen that the Assad regime is unable to succeed in the field,” Syrian National Coalition spokesman Ahmed Ramazan said.
Referring to Assad’s other ally Iran, Ramazan argued the regime had been turned into a puppet of Tehran and Moscow.
French President Francois Hollande told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that he hoped that the meeting between Putin and Assad would be aimed at convincing the Syrian leader to leave office.
Hollande said that he “wants to believe” that Putin talked to his Syrian counterpart about “engaging into a political transition in Syria”.
He added that Russia’s military action in Syria “only makes sense if it is against Daesh and allows the start of a political transition”.
The State Department said the Assad visit did not surprise the United States.
“It’s not surprising that Bashar al-Assad would travel to Moscow given the relationship that Syria has with Russia, and given the recent military activities by Russia in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad,” State Department spokesman said during a press briefing in Washington Wednesday.
Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria in late September while Iran has provided ground troops to back Assad’s regime.
At least 250,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011, with 7.6 million internally displaced and more than four million having fled abroad.