Russian President Vladimir Putin told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Dec. 11 he wanted to work with Iran and Turkey to kick-start the Syrian peace process during a surprise visit to the war-torn country, Russian news agencies reported.
Putin was also cited as telling Assad he hoped that it would be possible to launch the work of the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue and that he would discuss the matter in forthcoming meetings with presidents of Turkey and Egypt.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Dec. 11 in the Turkish capital Ankara to discuss crises in the Middle East.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Dec. 11 that Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will discuss preparations for the work of the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue — an event Moscow hopes will bring together the Syrian government and the opposition — when they meet.
Turkey has stressed many times before that all representatives and segments from Syria should participate in the National Dialogue Meeting, but ruled out any place for the inclusion of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), because of their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
Additionally, Putin ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria on Dec. 11.
“I order the defense minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Putin said in a televised speech as he visited Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Syria.
“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia.”
Putin, who was welcomed by Assad, said the troops had helped the Syrian army crush the “most battle-ready group of international terrorists,” apparently referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“Our homeland thanks you, my friends,” Putin said. “Have a safe trip. I thank you for your service.”
Putin and Assad were pictured smiling and shaking hands.
Putin made the stopover at the base in Latakia province, a regime stronghold, on his way to Egypt where he arrived later on Dec. 11.
Putin, making his second visit to Egypt in as many years, held talks on Dec. 11 with his Egyptian counterpart on their countries’ rapidly expanding ties.
Egypt’s general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has visited Russia three times since the ouster of his Islamist predecessor in 2013. After taking office, al-Sisi has bought billions of dollars’ worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters.
The two countries are also in the late stages of negotiations over the construction by a Russian company of Egypt’s first nuclear energy reactor.
Also, Russia last month approved a draft agreement with Egypt to allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, a deal that would mark a significant leap in bilateral ties and evidence of Moscow’s expanding military role in a turbulent Middle East. That deal, if it goes through, will likely irk the United States, until now a top Egypt military ally.
Al-Sisi met Putin at Cairo’s international airport and the two leaders later went straight to the presidential Ittahidyah palace in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis suburb where talks got underway.