Putin Meets Assad, Says 'Foreign Armed Forces Will Start Leaving Syria'

Russian president says given Syrian army's 'victories and successes,' foreign armed forces 'will start leaving Syrian territory'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Thursday, May 17, 2018.
Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

According to an official Kremlin statement, Putin told Assad that in light of the Syrian army's recent "victories and success," foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from Syria. 

>> Russia's covert mission in Syria uncovered

"Given the victories and successes of the Syrian army in the war on terror, in light of the onset of a more active period, and in light of the fact that a more active political process has begun, foreign armed forces will start leaving Syrian territory," Putin was reportedly quoted as saying.

Foreign troops currently in Syria include Russian, Iranian, Turkish and American forces, as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah and other pro-Assad militias. It is unclear to which of these forces Putin was referring.

The two leaders also emphasized the importance of creating conditions for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, according to the report.

Russia is a key ally of Assad. Military support from Moscow has allowed the Syrian president to make large territorial gains in recent months against rebels in the war-torn country.

'Iranian aggression'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow earlier this month, saying upon his return that he had impressed upon the Russian premier "Israel's obligation and right to defend itself against Iranian aggression, from Syrian territory."

Russia hinted last month that it would supply advanced weapons to Assad despite Israeli objections. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Western attacks in Syria had removed any moral obstacle to arming Syria.

However, a Putin aide who oversees military cooperation with foreign countries suggested only two days after Netanyahu's Moscow visit that Putin was receptive to the Israeli leader's concerns over Iran's presence in Syria. The aide said Russia was not in talks with Syria to provide its S-300 air defense sytem and that Syrian military already had "everything it needed."

Last week, Iranian forces fired 20 rockets at Israel Defense Forces positions in the Golan Heights. In response, Israel conducted its most extensive strikes on Syria in decades, openly attacking dozens of Iranian military and logistics targets in Syria. 

The Israeli military accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Al Quds force and its commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, of launching the projectiles the Israeli Golan Heights, likely in retaliation for previous attacks on attributed to Israel on Iranian bases and positions in Syria.

The leader of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said on Monday the missile attack from Syria into the Golan Heights marked a new phase in the Syrian war

Reuters and DPA contributed to this report.