Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to visit Moscow

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to visit Moscow
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Damascus aims to secure Russia’s help to cope with earthquake disaster and improve relations with Turkey

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will arrive in Russia in mid-March for an official visit, Russian newspaper Vedemosti reported, citing diplomatic sources. During his visit, Assad will discuss earthquake relief assistance and relations with Turkey with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The last visit of the Syrian President to the Russian capital took place before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine - in mid-September 2021.

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin does not announce international visits in advance, in part for security reasons.

Syria has not recovered from the aftermath of a 12-year civil war, is subject to severe Western sanctions, and was hit hard, along with neighboring Turkey, by the Feb. 6 earthquake. The World Bank estimates the damage caused by the disaster throughout the country at $5.1 billion, and the World Health Organization counted about 8,500 earthquake victims in Syria, half of them in Damascus- controlled areas.

Last year, Syria and Turkey began a normalization process under Moscow's mediation, ten years after official contacts between Damascus and Ankara broke down over Turkey's support for the Syrian armed opposition.

In December 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he would meet with the Syrian leader after the heads of the defense and foreign ministries and the intelligence services of both countries established initial contacts. Moscow supported this initiative.

In mid-December, the first meeting of the defense ministers in 10 years took place in Moscow with Russia's mediation.

In mid-January, preparations were announced for a trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, and Turkey. At the same time, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad made the complete withdrawal of Turkish troops from the country a condition for a summit and the resumption of diplomatic relations, while an earthquake prevented further contacts.

Turkey is showing interest in continuing the dialog, even though Syria is setting tough conditions for Turkish behavior in the north of the country, Vedemosti quoted Nikolai Surkov, a senior Middle East expert as saying.