Vladimir Putin has staked his claim to be a Middle East power-broker after pushing world leaders to agree a lasting peace in Syria.
The Russian president hosted his Syrian counterpart and ally Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday. The meeting with Assad, only the second time the Syrian leader has travelled abroad since the civil war started more than six years ago, “was apparently staged carefully to show off Putin’s claim to be the new power-broker in the Middle East”, says The Times.
Today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose countries back opposing sides in the Syria conflict, will travel to Russia for a three-way meeting with Putin.
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This is a remarkable turn-around for Assad, who has faced intense international pressure to stand down, and a triumph of diplomacy and military strength from Putin.
Russian forces, who began their invention in Syria two years, have been widely credited as turning the tide in Assad’s favour and to underscore their importance Assad praised military leaders in Sochi for “defending the territorial integrity of [his] country”.
Reuters says previous efforts to end the brutal war “have largely foundered because of bitter disagreements among players in the conflict, both inside and outside Syria, especially whether Assad himself should stay in power”.
It is a sign of Putin’s growing influence in the region that the decision whether Assad stays or goes is now almost entirely down to him. But while he may be feted by the Syrian regime, the intervention has come at a political cost for Putin at home.
According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, half of all Russians now believe the military operations in Syria should come to an end. As many as 32% believe the war could become a “new Afghanistan”, in reference to the brutal 10-year campaign which exhausted the Soviet Union in the 1980s and played a role in its collapse.
News of mounting Russian casualties, reportedly 131 in the first nine months of the year, “have added to the impetus for an end to the Russian operation”, says The Independent.
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