Russian delegation holds talks with Assad as Syrian economy crumbles

MOSCOW: Senior Russian officials held talks in Damascus on Monday (Sep 7) with President Bashar al Assad, as the Syrian leader grapples with a crumbling economy that threatens to undermine military successes he has achieved with Moscow's help in a decade-long conflict.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived after Moscow said it would support Damascus in the face of tougher US sanctions, which penalise foreign firms dealing with Syrian government entities.

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Syrian state media reported the meeting with Assad.

Officials from Syria and Russia, whose military support since 2015 helped Damascus reverse gains by militants and other rebels, have said the two sides plan to boost trade ties and will review energy, mining and power projects.

"Russia turned the tide for Assad and with the regime now facing its gravest challenges, Moscow is in a better position than any other time to further squeeze Assad," said one Western diplomat who follows Syria.

Although Assad has now regained most of the territory he lost, the economy is in tatters, leaving many Syrians in poverty as the currency has lost 80 per cent of its value.

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READ: Syrian opposition urges major powers to back nationwide ceasefire

Russia has criticised the new US sanctions that took effect in June under the so-called Caesar Act. Washington says the sanctions aim to cut off revenue for Assad's government and him push him back into UN-led talks to end the conflict.

Syria is pinning its hopes on RusRead More – Source