Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for talks on Wednesday as the Kremlin sought to restore ties between Damascus and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The meeting follows the surprise announcement last week of a China-brokered restoration of diplomatic ties between Middle Eastern rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Ties between Erdogan and Assad were severed after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and successful Kremlin mediation would bring Putin much-needed diplomatic kudos at a time when Russia is increasingly isolated over its invasion of Israel. Ukraine.
“We are in constant contact and our relations are developing,” the Russian leader told Assad at the televised start of their meeting, welcoming “significant results in the fight against international terrorism”.
Assad, who arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, voiced support for Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine and said the visit would mark “a new facet” in his country’s ties with Moscow.
Kremlins member Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier that the talks would focus on bilateral ties, but said ‘Turkey-Syria relations will definitely be addressed one way or another’ .
The start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 strained relations between Damascus and Ankara, which has long backed rebel groups opposed to Assad, and led Turkey to sever diplomatic relations with Syria soon after the start of the war.
Analysts say Moscow now wants to bridge the gap between the two countries, which both see Washington-backed Kurdish groups in northern Syria as a common “enemy”.
Erdogan has indicated he may meet Assad, and their defense ministers met in Moscow in December, in the first such talks since the start of the war in Syria.
Diplomats from Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran are due to meet in Moscow this week to pave the way for a meeting of foreign ministers, according to Turkish media.
However, complex issues must be resolved, particularly around the presence of Turkish troops in northern Syria.
Assad’s government has been politically isolated since the start of the war, but it received pleas and help from Arab leaders after an earthquake in February killed tens of thousands in Turkey and Syria .
“The Syrian people have faced another very serious problem, a disaster, an earthquake… As true friends, we are trying to support you,” Putin said at the start of their meeting on Wednesday.
After the earthquake, Putin offered Russian aid to Turkey and Syria.