MOSCOW (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to the summer residence of Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea to discuss the Syrian conflict on Thursday, the Kremlin said, a visit that underlined the status of Moscow as the main sponsor of Assad.
From that the clashes broke out in his country 2011, Assad has only rarely traveled, but has made three publicly recognized visits to Russia, each time for meetings with Putin.
Russia's entry into the conflict in 2015 changed the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad, and established Russia as a power broker in the Middle East.
At the meeting in the Sochi spa on the Black Sea, Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, after being re-elected in March, and thanked the Russian military for their support in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting, which had not been announced in advance, took place on Thursday.
" 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 initial comments of the meeting published on the Kremlin's website.
"I have always said, and I repeat, that we have always unconditionally supported the political process, which must continue in parallel with the war against terrorism."
"We know it will not be easy, as there are countries that do not want stability to return to Syria, but together with you and our other partners and friends, we will move forward firmly in the peace process," said Assad.
Russia He said he intervened militarily in Syria to defeat the violent Islamic extremists who had taken control of parts of the country and were launching bomb attacks and weapons in other parts of the world.
Critics of Russia's action, including the United States and European states, say it is propping up an Assad leader who has lost his legitimacy, and that his air strikes have killed a large number of civilians. Russia says it never points to civil areas.
In comments quoted by the Kremlin, Putin congratulated the Syrian leader for what he said were significant successes in the battlefield achieved by the Syrian army.
"Terrorists have laid down their arms in key locations in Syria, which has allowed the restoration of Syrian infrastructure," Putin was quoted as saying.
"And of course now, after these military successes, no doubt additional conditions have been created for the renewal of a complete political process."
Assad was making his second visit to see Putin in Sochi. The previous occasion was in November of last year. He also visited Putin in Moscow in October 2015, shortly after Russia launched its military operation in Syria.
Written by Maxim Rodionov and Christian Lowe; Edition by Richard Balmforth