The discussions in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised onlookers. The meeting had not been publicized, and Assad’s last trip to Russia was in 2015.
The two leaders discussed Syria’s post-war rebuilding as well as the problem of foreign military involvement. Experts think that the primary reason for the meeting is because the parties want to reduce the weight of Western sanctions on Damascus, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The need for Western sanctions to be lifted emerged in part because regional actors want to carry out a deal to supply Egyptian gas to Lebanon. The plan is to make Syria a transit nation. The proposal, however, requires a substantial relaxation of US restrictions.
According to Anton Mardasov, a Russian International Affairs Council expert, it was critical that Assad visited Moscow shortly before UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen’s trip to Istanbul and consultations between Russian and US delegations, which are set to take place in Geneva in the coming days.
“As far as I understand it, the negotiating is not so much about resuming the Geneva talks, which the Syrian regime wants to stall and even relocate to Damascus, but about a consensus on relieving sanctions in order to enhance trade with Jordan and actually debate the idea of supplying gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan – a very complex task, in my opinion,” Mardasov said, commenting on efforts to step up sanctions.
All of this, according to the analyst, is critical in terms of striking an agreement with the Biden administration “in order to set limits of what is permitted.”