Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday as Russia is hosting the Syrian regime leader this week.
"Topical issues of further development of Russian-Syrian cooperation in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres, as well as prospects for a comprehensive settlement of the situation in and around Syria, will be discussed," the Kremlin said in a statement.
According to reports Assad met with Putin's special representative Mikhail Bogdanov and the Russian ambassador to Damascus Alexander Yefimov. It appears Moscow is trying to broker a deal between Syria’s regime and Turkey.
According to Al-Mayadeen, the talks went on for several hours. Eventually, the talks ended sometime around sunset in Russia. Russia-Syria ties were part of the talks. Russia intervened to support Syria in 2015 against the Syrian rebels. Today Russia is seeking to broker Syria-Turkey ties and Russia is also increasingly working with Iran.
The leaders discussed reconstruction projects in Syria. Russia claims that it supports Syria's “sovereignty and territorial integrity," and they also touched on the issue of Syrian-Turkish relations. Turkey occupies parts of northern Syria. Turkey is having an election in May. It is unlikely Ankara will change its policy before the election.
The earthquake in Turkey killed thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey and thousands of Syrians in Syria. Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Syrian regime oppose the US presence in eastern Syria. Top US general Mark Milley recently visited Syria. The Syrian regime has also accused Israel of recent airstrikes in Syria, including in Aleppo.
According to reports the visit by Assad comes a day before a quartet meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran. This is the new quartet Russia appears to be pushing and Moscow wants all these countries to work together on certain topics. Russian and Turkish media, as well as Al-Mayadeen, have all signaled that Turkey may also approve of Finland joining NATO, and interesting messages coming from these regimes.
After Iran signed a deal with Saudi Arabia that could see Saudi investment in Iran, there are many questions about shifts in the region and big power diplomacy that appears to underline these kinds of meetings. Can Russia bring together the Syrian regime and Turkey? If Russia enables that new era of talks, would this dovetail with Russia-Iran partnerships and also the Iran-Saudi reconciliation?
China, Iran and Russia also held a naval drill this week. The multi-day drill is an important symbol of China-Russia-Iran ties and how they could reshape the region.
“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies…and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the Chinese Ministry of National Defence said in a statement on Wednesday.