Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Syria regime leader Bashar al Assad during an unprecedented visit to Damascus as prospect of war between Iran and US loom over Mideast.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said enormous progress has been made in Syria as he met on Tuesday with regime leader Bashar al Assad on a surprise visit to Damascus, Russian news agencies reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the agencies that in talks with Assad, Putin had underlined "that a huge distance has been travelled towards restoring Syrian statehood and the country's territorial integrity."
Peskov told Interfax, RIA Novosti, and TASS that Putin had met Assad at a command post for Russian forces in Syria, driving through Damascus on the way.
"Putin also noted that on the streets of Damascus the signs of how peace has been restored can be seen with the naked eye," according to Peskov.
The Russian leader was expected in Turkey on Wednesday to inaugurate a gas pipeline, TurkStream, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Peskov said the two men had heard military reports on the situation in various parts of Syria, where Russia's armed forces intervened in 2015 in support of Assad.
"The Syrian president [regime leader] expressed appreciation for the help of Russia and the Russian military in the fight against terrorism and the restoration of peaceful life in Syria," Peskov said.
Assad also "warmly congratulated" Putin and the Russian people on Orthodox Christmas taking place on Tuesday, he said.
Putin was due to visit several more sites, Peskov said, without providing further details.
It was Putin's first visit to Damascus since the launch of the Russian intervention, though he previously visited Russia's Hmeimim air base in northwestern Syria in December 2017.
The visit comes at a time of heightened regional tension when Assad's other main military ally Iran has said it will retaliate against the United States for the killing of an Iranian general.
Qasem Soleimani, who was one of the key figures in Syria's civil war as the architect of Iranian military operations in the Middle East, had just arrived in Iraq from Syria when he was killed by a US drone on Friday at Baghdad airport.
Russian and Iranian support have helped regime leader Assad win back nearly all territory from the opposition and rebels who tried to overthrow him during the civil war that began nearly nine years ago and has so far killed over 400,000 people and displaced millions.