Covid-19: Putin self isolating after meeting with Assad in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating as a precaution after several members of his entourage fell ill with Covid-19, but is "absolutely" healthy and does not have the disease himself, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
The Kremlin said Putin took the decision to self-isolate after he had met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Kremlin on Monday, in consultation with doctors.
Putin's decision to self-isolate suggests a potential breach in the rigorous regime set up to keep the Russian leader, who turns 69 next month, healthy and away from anyone with the virus.
Kremlin visitors have had to pass through special disinfection tunnels, Putin has had two shots of Russia's flagship Sputnik V vaccine, journalists attending his events have to undergo multiple PCR tests, and people he meets are asked to quarantine beforehand and be tested.
Assad's most powerful ally in the decade-long Syrian conflict, Putin last received the Syrian leader in Russia in 2018 at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Russia's air force played a critical role in turning the tide of the Syrian conflict in Assad's favour after it deployed there in 2015, helping him recover most territory lost to rebels.
However, significant parts of Syria remain beyond state control, with Turkish forces deployed in much of the north and northwest - the last major bastion of anti-Assad rebels - and US forces in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.
Putin told Assad that foreign forces in Syria without a UN decision were a hindrance to its consolidation, the Kremlin said in a statement.
"The main problem, in my view, is that foreign armed forces remain in certain regions of the country without the approval of the United Nations and without your permission," Putin told Assad during their meeting.
Assad, who has also been backed by Iran during the conflict, has made few trips abroad since the civil war began in 2011.
The Syrian president told Putin it was a "great honour" to meet with him in Moscow and praised "significant results" of their two militaries, including work on "the return of refugees who were forced to leave their homes and leave their homeland".
Putin congratulated Assad on winning a fourth term in office in a presidential election in May, Reuters reported.
The Syrian presidency said the two leaders were joined in their talks by Syria's foreign minister, Faisal al-Meqdad and Russia's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, AFP reported.
In a statement, it said the two sides discussed the importance of reaching political agreements "between Syrians and without any foreign interference".
It said Putin and Assad had discussed "economic cooperation" without providing further details.
The Kremlin said Assad thanked the Russian leader for humanitarian aid to Syria and for his efforts to halt the "spread of terrorism".
He lauded what he called the success of Russian and Syrian armies in "liberating occupied territories" of Syria.
Assad also described as "antihuman" and "illegitimate" sanctions imposed by some nations on Syria.
The US tightened sanctions against Syria last year, saying they were aimed at forcing Assad to stop the war and agree to a political solution.
Syria's civil war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and driven millions from their homes, since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown by Assad on anti-government protests.
Assad's forces have recaptured about 70 percent of the country since 2015 and large-scale fighting has subsided in the multi-sided conflict which which has sucked in neighbours and world powers, and caused the largest displacement crisis since World War Two.