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Syria's Assad hosts Russian envoy, discusses rapprochement with Turkey

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Russian special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev to discuss ending the occupation of Syrian land, highlighting the potential rapprochement with Turkey.
A banner depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin reading "Justice Prevails" is displayed along a highway, Damascus, Syria, March 8, 2022.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus on Thursday with a Russian delegation headed by the special envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lavrentiev.

Talks covered Syrian-Russian strategic relations, and efforts to normalize relations between Damascus and Ankara following a breakdown in those ties in the last ten years. 

Assad confirmed Syria’s support for the Russian position in Ukraine, as Lavrentiev reiterated the belief in Russia’s policies stating that those opposing it, including the United States and its allies, have failed to isolate both Syria and Russia.

According to Syria’s national news agency, Lavrentiev praised the tripartite meeting between Turkey, Syria and Russia, stressing the need to follow up on these meetings at the foreign ministers’ level.

In turn, Assad stated that such meetings with Turkey aim at ending the occupation of Syrian land while stopping the support of any militant activities, which should be done in coordination with Russia to ensure the needed results.

“[Meetings] should be coordinated between Syria and Russia in advance in order to … produce tangible results sought by Syria,” Assad said.

Why it matters: Moscow has been sponsoring and promoting talks between Syria and Turkey, which have been locked in a proxy war for years. Turkey was a major backer of Assad’s opposition for the entirety of Syria’s war, for 12 years sending its troops into different areas of the country’s north. Iran in counterpart supports the Syrian government.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian while on a diplomatic visit to Lebanon on Friday welcomed the political rapprochement between Syria and Turkey. Iran provided political and armed support to Damascus over the last decade.

“We are happy with the dialogue taking place between Syria and Turkiy, and we believe that it will reflect positively between the two countries,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

Know More: Last December, Russia hosted talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers and is now planning for meetings between the foreign ministers leading to an eventual presidential summit.

According to a source with close knowledge of the negotiations who spoke to Arab News, “Syria wanted Turkey to pull its troops from swathes of the north and to halt support to three main opposition factions.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad early in February.

This would mark the highest-level talks between the two countries since the Syrian war began in 2011. No further details have been provided on the exact date.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing for a Turkish-Russian reconciliation for years, and the endgame seems closer than ever, driven by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sense of opportunity as a result of Russia's war on Ukraine, the upcoming Turkish presidential elections and a growing domestic discontent with his policies.

Protests have been erupting across different Syrian cities in Aleppo and Idlib governorates. According to media reports, several hundreds of Syrians protested last week in al-Bab against any reconciliation efforts with the Syrian government. Al-Bab is controlled by rebel factions backed by Ankara. 

Turkey and Syria have been engaged in a proxy war for over a decade following Ankara’s support of opposition groups. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey is home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

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