MOSCOW (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday was hosting Syrian leader Bashar Assad for talks as the Kremlin steps up efforts to reconcile Ankara and Moscow’s ally Damascus.
Helping to restore ties between Turkiye and Syria offers an opportunity for the Kremlin to gather diplomatic clout, as Moscow grows increasingly isolated from the West after sending troops to Ukraine.
The meeting follows the surprise announcement last week of a Chinese-brokered restoration of diplomatic ties between the Middle East’s major rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the meeting between Putin and Assad, who arrived in Moscow on Tuesday evening, was due to start around 1200 GMT.
“At the forefront (of the talks) are bilateral Syrian-Russian relations,” Peskov said, adding that “Turkiye-Syria relations will certainly be touched upon in one way or another.”
The outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011 has strained relations between Damascus and Ankara, which has long supported rebel groups opposed to Assad.
Turkiye severed diplomatic ties with Syria soon after the war started.
But analysts have said Moscow wants to bridge the divide between the two countries that see a common “enemy” in Kurdish groups in northern Syria, described as “terrorists” by Ankara and backed by Washington.
Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently indicated he could meet with Assad to discuss a revival of ties, and their defense ministers met in Moscow in late December in the first such talks since the Syrian war began.
Diplomats from Russia, Turkiye, Syria and Iran are due to meet in Moscow this week, according to Turkish media.
Assad’s government has been politically isolated since the start of the war, but he has been receiving calls and aid from Arab leaders after a February earthquake that killed tens of thousands in Turkiye and Syria.
Damascus is a staunch ally of Moscow, which intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2015, launching air strikes to support the government’s struggling forces.
Assad last visited Moscow in September 2021 when he also met Putin.