Photo: Reuters

Putin conducts surprise visit to Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded a surprise visit to Damascus, where he held several meetings with his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar al-Assad.

The two leaders visited the Russian military’s headquarters in Damascus, after which Assad gave Putin a Christmas tour of the city.

Arab diplomats said that Putin’s visit—timed just two weeks before his scheduled visit to Israel—was designed to allay Syrian concerns that Iran might try to mount an attack on Israel from Syrian territory to avenge the death of Qasem Soleimani. Such an attack could evolve into an Israeli-Iranian conflict on Syrian soil.

According to Arab diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, ‘Putin’s visit was also designed to deliver the unequivocal message to Tehran that Syria is controlled by the Russians and that Moscow would not allow the Iranians to operate against the United States, Israel or Saudi Arabia from Syrian territory.’