Assad’s visit to Moscow cements legitimacy (News Analysis)

Damascus, Oct 22 (IANS) President Bashar al-Assad’s unexpected visit to Moscow, where he met Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has sent a clear message to his foes that he remains Syria’s legitimate authority.

In addition, it also signified Assad’s inclusion in any future settlement of the Syrian conflict, particularly as this is Assad’s first known trip overseas since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, analysts said.

“The most important message the president’s visit conveyed was that he remains Syria’s legitimate leader and that he can travel to and from Syria safely,” Nahla Isa, a professor at Damascus University’s Media Faculty, told Xinhua news agency.

Assad’s one-day visit to Moscow on Tuesday and subsequent return to Damascus came during heightened rhetoric from Western and Arab countries that Assad’s departure should kick off political solutions.

“The visit highlighted the deep strategic coalition and coordination between Damascus and Moscow,” Isa said, reflecting the opinion of many analysts concerning the visit.

Maher Murhej, head of the Syrian Youth Party, said: “The visit indicates there will be no political solution to the Syrian conflict without Assad, because he must lead the solution process and that countering terrorism should be tackled under his command.”

The Moscow visit paves the way for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, Murhej added, citing the Russian leader’s pledge of continued support for Syria.

Meanwhile, Walid al-Zoubi, a Syrian legislator, said the visit came at the right time and accented Assad’s legitimacy.

“Assad’s visit lay the final touches on the counter-terrorism process, which is to be followed by a process resulting in a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” he said, adding that Assad could also visit Iran, his major regional ally during the nearly five-year-old insurgency.

While Assad’s visit is also significant since it represents the extent the Russians are willing to go to support Assad, other analysts say the visit also relays a message to Assad that the Russian military operations should be followed by a political scenario.

During his meeting with Putin, Assad said the Russian airstrikes in Syria curbed terrorist groups’ activities in the war-torn country, according to the state news agency SANA.

The Syrian leader highlighted the need for countries supportive of the insurgency in his country to stop backing terrorist groups to enable Syrians to define their country’s future.

He said that military operations in Syria aim to eliminate terrorism which hinders political solutions, adding that any military operation must be followed by political steps.

As for Putin, he expressed his administration’s readiness to assist Syria both militarily and politically, according to SANA.

“Certainly Syria as a country is considered our friend, and we are prepared to help, not just militarily against terrorism, but also politically,” said Putin.

Russia started air strikes on militant groups’ posts in Syria on September 30, a move hailed by Syrian government officials as an efficient step in the war against terrorism.

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