Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has gone to Moscow to personally thank Russia's Vladimir Putin for his military support, in a surprise visit that underlines how Russia has become a major player in the Middle East. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Moscow on Tuesday evening (October 20) to personally thank Russia's Vladimir Putin for his military support, in a surprise visit that underlined how Russia has become a major player in the Middle East. It was Assad's first foreign trip since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, and came three weeks after Russia launched a campaign of air strikes against Islamist militants in Syria that has also bolstered Assad's forces. The Kremlin kept the visit quiet until Wednesday morning, broadcasting a meeting between the two men in the Kremlin and releasing a transcript of an exchange they had. It did not say whether the Syrian leader was still in Moscow or had returned home. Putin said he hoped progress on the military front would be followed by moves toward a political solution in Syria, bolstering Western hopes Moscow will use its increased influence on Damascus to cajole Assad into talking to his opponents. Assad, who looked relaxed, emphasized how Russia was acting according to international law, praising Moscow's political approach to the Syrian crisis which he said had ensured it had not played out according to "a more tragic scenario." Ultimately, he said, the resolution to the crisis was a political one. Putin said Russia was ready to help find a political solution and hailed the Syrian people for standing up to the militants "almost on their own," saying the Syrian army had notched up serious battlefield success in recent times. Related Coverage He said Russia had felt compelled to act in Syria because of the threat Islamist militants fighting Assad's forces there posed to its own security.