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Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed their joint military campaign.
Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed their joint military campaign. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/POOL VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin of Russia called his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, to Moscow for an unannounced visit to discuss their joint military campaign and a political transition in Syria, the Kremlin announced on Wednesday.

According to a transcript posted on the Kremlin’s website, Putin met Assad late Tuesday and told him that Russia was ready to contribute not only to the fight against terrorism but also to a political settlement of the conflict that has raged for more than four years.

Assad, in turn, briefed the Russian leader about the situation on the ground and on the next steps.

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The surprise visit — evidently Assad’s first outside Syria since the civil war began there in 2011 — highlighted how the political and military horizon of the long war of attrition has shifted drastically because of Russia’s intervention.

In the brief remarks released by the Kremlin, Putin told Assad that the military and political issues were linked.

“On the question of a settlement in Syria, our position is that positive results in military operations will lay the basis for then working out a long-term settlement, based on a political process that involves all political forces, ethnic and religious groups,” Putin said. “Ultimately, it is the Syrian people alone who must have the deciding voice here.”

In his response, Assad said that Russian intervention had halted the spread of terrorism and that a political transition could come after that threat was addressed.

“If it were not for your actions and decisions, the terrorism that is spreading through the region now would have made even greater gains and spread to even wider territories,” Assad said, according to the Kremlin transcript.

“We all know that any military action must be followed by political steps,” Assad said, calling the threat from terrorism a “real obstacle” to any political settlement.

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A summary of the discussion, also carried by the official Syrian news agency, said Assad had demanded that the United States and regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar halt support for his opponents.

“Of course, the whole nation wants to participate in deciding the destiny of their state, not only the ruling party,” Assad said.

Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, would not comment on whether the two men broached the topic of Assad’s future during the talks, which Peskov described as “lengthy.”

The most obvious focus of the talks was “the fight against terrorist and extremist groups, issues of the continuation of the Russian operation supporting the offensive of the Syrian military,” Peskov said.