Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the presence of foreign troops in Syria, a Kremlin statement said Tuesday, as he held unannounced talks in Moscow with the country’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow has been a key ally of the Assad regime throughout the Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests. Russia’s military intervention in 2015 helped turn the tide of the war in Assad’s favor and Moscow maintains military bases in the country.
“The main problem, in my view, is that foreign armed forces remain in certain regions of the country without the approval of the United Nations and without your permission,” Putin told Assad during their meeting, according to a Kremlin statement.
Putin hailed Russia and Syria’s “joint efforts” in the conflict, saying their militaries had returned the vast majority of territory to government control.
“Terrorists have suffered very serious significant damage, and the Syrian government, headed by you, controls 90 percent of the country’s territory,” Putin told Assad, the Kremlin said.
The Syrian leader told Putin it was a “great honor” to meet with him in Moscow and praised “significant results” of their two militaries, including work on “the return of refugees who were forced to leave their homes and leave their homeland.”
The Syrian presidency said the two leaders were joined in their talks by Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In a statement, it said the two sides discussed the importance of reaching political agreements “between Syrians and without any foreign interference.”
It said Putin and Assad had discussed “economic cooperation,” without providing further details.
Russia’s political and military support for Syria, where it maintains army bases, has been a particular sticking point in Moscow’s relations with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow for bolstering the Assad regime.