Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived in Moscow on Tuesday on a rare trip, where he is expected to meet with his staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin on the following day. A Kremlin statement previewing the Wednesday Assad-Putin meeting indicated that on the agenda will be “further development of Russian-Syrian cooperation in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres, as well as the prospects for a comprehensive settlement of the situation in and around Syria,” according to TASS.
The statement also noted that Wednesday is the “anniversary of the conflict” which started 12 years ago in March 2011. Assad emerged victorious especially with Russia’s help, given the Russian military intervention at the invitation of the Syrian leader in 2015. Both Damascus and Moscow have characterized the conflict as fundamentally the result of externally-driven regime change efforts targeting Assad led by the United States and gulf allies. But this year, for the first time, there’s been frequent visits of representatives from Arab capitals to Damascus.
Washington has of course reacted by warning its regional allies against welcoming Assad “back in from the cold” – but few seem to be listening, and now the momentum from last Friday’s China-brokered Iran-Saudi Arabia peace and normalization deal is expected to further realign the region away from US interests. This Moscow trip will see both Putin and Assad capitalize on this positive momentum in Syria’s favour, at a moment severe US-led sanctions continue to be in place.
Given Assad and the Syrian Army have emerged victorious after over a decade of fighting, which also on multiple occasions saw the US bomb government-held cities and areas, including the capital, even Turkey appears to be warming to the idea of rapprochement. Both sides want US troops out of northeast Syria as well. President Erdogan has in particular bristled at Washington’s training and support given to Syrian Kurdish groups aligned with the outlawed PKK.