Assad's 'first foreign trip' since conflict started

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcoming his Syrian counterpart, Mr Bashar al-Assad, to the Kremlin on Tuesday. It was Mr Assad's first foreign trip since war broke out in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcoming his Syrian counterpart, Mr Bashar al-Assad, to the Kremlin on Tuesday. It was Mr Assad's first foreign trip since war broke out in Syria.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MOSCOW • Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad travelled to Moscow on his first known foreign trip since conflict broke out in his country in 2011, for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Assad, who last visited Russia in 2008, used the visit on Tuesday to thank Mr Putin for launching a campaign of air strikes in Syria last month, with the two leaders agreeing that military operations must be followed by political steps.

Mr Putin pledged to continue to support Damascus militarily, while calling for a political solution involving all groups to try to end the war, the Kremlin said yesterday as it announced the visit.

Mr Assad's talks with one of his few remaining allies came the same day the United Nations said tens of thousands of people had fled new regime offensives in Syria.

Mr Assad told Mr Putin the Russian air bombardments launched on Sept 30 - which have prompted an outcry in the West - had helped stop the spread of "terrorism" in his country, the Kremlin said.

The strikes are reported to have killed at least 370 people so far, a third of them civilians, according to a monitoring group.

Russia insists the campaign is intended to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and others it describes as "terrorists".

But rebels and the West accuse Russia of seeking to prop up Mr Assad and of striking moderate and Islamist opposition forces rather than just ISIS.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Mr Assad's lightning trip as a "working visit" at the invitation of the Kremlin. Mr Assad was back in Damascus yesterday, the Syrian presidency said.

It appears the Kremlin waited for the Syrian leader to return home before announcing the visit.

Mr Peskov declined to say whether the "lengthy" talks, which also saw the two leaders and their entourages dine together, brought any firm results. He also did not say whether Mr Assad's fate had been discussed.

Meanwhile, with the Russian bombing campaign now in its fourth week, Moscow and Washington on Tuesday said they had agreed on measures to reduce the risk of a confrontation between Russian warplanes and others from a US-led coalition bombing Syria.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Assad's 'first foreign trip' since conflict started'. Print Edition | Subscribe