After a civil war where close to half a million people have died, Syrian President Bashar Assad hugged Vladimir Putin as the two declared victory in the bloody struggle.
Assad arrived in Sochi, Russia, on Monday, and was congratulated by the Kremlin leader on approaching the “final, inevitable destruction of the terrorists.”
The Syrian has faced armed rebels including some supported by the United States since 2011, and was seen as losing his grip on power before Russia sent troops into the Middle East to supoprt him in 2015.
A release from the Kremlin on Tuesday shows Assad embracing Putin and thanking him for his military help in achieving “big successes.”
The Islamic State, a terrorist group that has expanded its opposition to Assad and the Iraqi government into a network of global attacks, has recently suffered major losses including the fall of its capital Raqqa last month.
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Those defeats came from the Syrian army as well as Western air campaigns and ground troops from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed group with Kurdish and other Arab fighters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Tuesday that the U.S. selectively supports terrorist groups because it is “pushing its own agenda” in the region, a claim that followed the Russian Defense Ministry using a still from a video game as supposed proof that American strikes were helping extremists.
The defeat of ISIS in its so-called caliphate has prompted questions about the role of Assad and rebel groups in Syria after the war, the consequences of which have rippled throughout the world not just in the massive loss of life but the millions of refugees seeking shelter in Europe.
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Officials in the Barack Obama administration had insisted that Assad must not be part of any future Syrian government.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to back away from that hard line this spring by saying that the leader’s fate “will be decided by the Syrian people,”
He has more recently repeated calls for Assad, whose troops a UN report faults for the use of chemical weapons against their own people, to depart his country’s political scene.
Assad said that he wanted Russia to keep other “external actors” from interfering in the political settlement, though Putin said in the Kremlin release, however, that he would call President Trump on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
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