Source of the photo: Sana.sy
Executive summary: On March 14, 2023, President Bashar al-Asaad paid an official visit to the Kremlin leader, Vladimir Putin together with his officials in order to discuss political and economic cooperation as well as future prospects regarding Ankara – Damascus relations.
The official visit to Russia comes one month after Asaad’s first trip to Oman in more than a decade of war in his country. In Muscat, President Assad discussed regional issues and bilateral ties with Sultan Haitham bin Tareq and emphasized the importance of Oman in strengthening relations between the Arab states.
On 14th of March, President Bashar al-Asaad arrived in Moscow where he will hold talks with President Putin on a number of topics, including economic relations, humanitarian aid, but also reconciliation between Turkey and Syria in light of the recent earthquakes that have affected both countries at unprecedented levels. It is expected that Turkish Foreign Minister will join the discussion in the next days as President Erdogan expressed his intention to improve relations with Syria and support regional peace. Currently, it appears that Putin is the only person who can mediate talks at this opportune moment and restore ties between Turkey and Syria.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria back in 2011, Turkey and Syria have fought on opposing sides. Russia launched its military operations in Syria in 2015 to support Assad’s government in fighting back opposition forces and regaining control of some territories. Also, the country maintains a permanent air base near the Syrian port town of Latakia since then and a naval base in the port of Tartus being the only Russian base in the Mediterranean. Backed by Russian forces, Bashar al-Asaad managed to keep the sovereignty and territorial integrity of significant areas in Syria. However, today, large parts of Northwestern Syrian provinces are under Turkish military control. Syria insisted that Turkey should withdraw from these regions in order for Damascus to mend ties with Ankara.
During the first round of talks, the Syrian leader thanked President Putin for its military’s major contribution in stabilizing his country over years and mentioned that “its position has remained unchanged” despite the conduction of another special operation in Ukraine. Even though, Asaad’s government has been politically isolated since the 2011 uprisings, Russia has remained one of the president’s few allies.
Bashar al-Assad also expressed his appreciation for Putin’s support in mobilizing emergency teams to carry out rescue operations in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria one month ago when more than 50,000 civilians including 6,000 Syrians were killed.
In the immediate aftermath of the quakes, Arab officials have appeared to show signs of rehabilitation regarding their ties with Syria by calling for dialogues. The first official to go to Damascus was the Egyptian Foreign Minister in late February, followed by the Emirati and Jordanian foreign ministers later that month. In 2018, the UAE decided to reopen its Syrian embassy in Damascus.
Given the current circumstances and the growing international sympathy for Syria’s condition, Bashar Al-Assad might have the chance to make his comeback and gain popularity. His official visit to Oman last month may have opened the way for Assad’s rehabilitation, at least in the Arab world. Countries such as Lebanon and Jordan have provided humanitarian aid to Asaad in response to the recent events, but others, such as Saudi Arabia, have remained hesitant. However, normalization of relations between Syria and Egypt or the UAE could pave the way for Syria’s return to the Arab League after its membership was suspended in 2011 following the outbreak of the revolt that erupted into war.
To restore its legitimacy, Asaad’s government relies on Russia’s influence and support to repair its ties with regional powers. The meeting between the two Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad came immediately after the announcement of Saudi Arabia and Iran to renew diplomatic relations. They both welcomed the agreement and consider it as a step toward improving the relations in the region.
The discussion between President Asaad and President Vladimir Putin continued until March 16th focused on Syria’s recovery after the disastrous effects of the earthquakes and regional stabilization initiatives. Bilateral relations of Russia and Syria are developing, achieving a growth of 7 per cent in trade last year, as Kremlin leader declared. Russia remains one of the strongest allies of Asaad and an actively mediator between his government and regional powers and a supporter of reconciliation with Ankara. The current meeting between the two leaders show prospects of strengthening the economic and military relations.