Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, discussing the fight against terrorism and the prospects for a political settlement in Syria, the Kremlin said in Tuesday. The meeting was a rare instance of Assad leaving Syria.
In comments that were released by the Kremlin early on Tuesday, Putin told the Syrian leader he wanted to meet him in advance of a gathering, planned for this week in Russia, with the leaders of Turkey and Iran - two other powers heavily involved in the conflict in Syria.
Putin said he intended to talk with the Emir of Qatar, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Middle Eastern leaders after his talks with Assad.
"We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists. But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up."
"I think that now the most important thing, of course, is to move on the political questions, and I note with satisfaction your readiness to work with all those who want peace and a solution (to the conflict)," Putin said.
According to the Kremlin, the meeting happened on Monday in the Russian Black resort of Sochi, where Putin has a residence, but details were not released until Tuesday morning.
Assad, wearing a dark suit and sitting across a small coffee table from Putin, told the Russian leader: "At this stage, especially after we achieved victory over terrorists, it is in our interests to move forward with the political process."
"And we believe that the situation we now have on the ground and in the political sense permits us to expect progress in the political process. We count on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in the political process," said Assad, speaking through an interpreter.
Assad expressed to Putin the "gratitude from the Syrian people" for defending Syria's "territorial integrity and independence." He also thanked the Russian Defense Ministry and other government institutions, and even the Russian people who "have supported us all along."
Putin and Assad last met on October 20, 2015 in Moscow, a few weeks after Moscow launched a military operation in Syria that turned the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor.