Dmitry Medvedev and Assad
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Syrian President Bashar Assad meeting in Damascus, May 11, 2010. Photo by AP
Text size

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Damascus on Monday, in the first official visit by a Russian or Soviet leader to Syria.

The visit is seen, among other things, as intended to increase Russia's influence in the Middle East, and is perhaps a foray by Moscow toward further involvement in possible future peace talks between Israel and its neighbor to the north.

Medvedev arrived in Damascus accompanied by his wife as well as a constituent of Russian businessmen.

The Russian President is scheduled to meet his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, with the two expected to discuss peace talks with Israel, as well as other issues such as Israel's nuclear program and planned arms deals between Moscow and Damascus.

According to some reports President Shimon Peres, whose Moscow visit runs parallel to Medvedev's trip, had passed a message to the Syrian president, indicating that Israel would not attack this summer.

Syria has also been rumored to be interested in acquiring advanced Russian-made Iskander surface-to-surface missiles, although sources had said Moscow was likely to refuse such a transaction.

The timing of Medvedev's visit may run counter to U.S. policy, as President Barack Obama said Friday he had intended to renew sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests.
Obama, in a letter to Congress notifying it of his decision, accused Damascus of "supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq."

The United States, moreover, is delaying the displacement of a new American envoy to Syria.

Medvedev's Syria visit also comes while Israeli President Shimon Peres was visiting Moscow, and in the face of recent Israeli allegations of a Syria-Hezbollah arms deal which included, among others, long-range Scud missiles.

It is also possible that Russia is also trying to signal to the Arab world of its intention to move closer to the more extreme side of the Arab world, which includes Iran Syria, Hezbollah, and Hama