Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s summer residence on the Black Sea for talks on Thursday about the Syrian conflict, the Kremlin said, a visit that underscored Moscow’s status as Assad’s chief backer.
Since fighting broke out in his country in 2011, Assad has traveled only rarely, but has made three publicly-acknowledged visits to Russia, each time for meetings with Putin.
Russia’s entry into the conflict in 2015 turned the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor, and established Russia as a powerbroker in the Middle East.
At the meeting, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, after he was re-elected in March, and thanked the Russian military for its support in Syria.
“Stability is improving, and all that opens the doors to the political process, which we started a while ago,” Assad told Putin, according to a transcript of the opening remarks from the meeting posted on the Kremlin website.
Critics of Russia’s action, among them the United States and European states, say it is propping up an Assad leadership that has lost its legitimacy, and that its air strikes have killed large numbers of civilians. Russia says it never targets civilian areas.