Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of a military exhibition in Moscow to discuss an Iranian-Russian initiative for ending the civil war in Syria with visiting Middle Eastern leaders. Jordan’s King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates arrived in Moscow on Monday, followed Tuesday by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Delegations from several other Arab states are expected, as well as an Iranian delegation that will sign a deal to buy S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
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The Iranian-Russian initiative has gathered momentum following the signing of the nuclear accord between Iran and the six powers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently hosted Iranian and Saudi representatives to discuss details of the initiative, which includes an expansion of the Arab-Western coalition’s attacks against the Islamic State organization so as to include the Syrian army and its allies. Also arriving in Moscow was a delegation representing the National Syrian Coalition, the internationally recognized umbrella organization of Syrian opposition groups. Assad’s opponents reject the idea of including him in the fight against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and want to ensure that any future scenario includes his departure.
The Syrian air force continued to bomb rebel-controlled Damascus suburbs as well as villages and towns held by Islamist extremist groups in the country’s northwest. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 people were killed in the bombing. In Douma, which was heavily bombed last week — over 150 people died, and the city’s main market was destroyed — 23 were killed. In northwestern Syria 17 people died when barrels bombs were dropped on the village of al-Bara.
The MAKS-2015 air show, which will include representatives from 30 countries, comes as Russia is making every effort to increase its revenues in face of sanctions imposed by Western countries because of the Ukrainian crisis as well as the sharp drop in oil prices. Despite the economic crisis, Russia is spending billions of dollars to upgrade its armed forces and increasing its naval activity in the Arctic Ocean and the Far East. Russian arms sales in 2014 exceeded $15.5 billion in arms sales, despite the sanctions on its military industries. It is the second largest exporter of arms in the world, after the United States.
The Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported that at their meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Sissi and Putin will discuss “all aspects of bilateral relations, including prospects of further strengthening trade and economic cooperation.” The two leaders are expected to announce several economic, political and military accords, including the building of two nuclear power stations in western Egypt and the establishment of a new Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal. Russia may also build a nuclear power station in Jordan.