Modi, Putin to hold free-wheeling discussions at 21 May summit

Modi, Putin to hold free-wheeling discussions at 21 May summit

According to a Kremlin statement, Mr Assad said "stability is improving" in Syria, "opening the door to the political process we started some time ago".

At the meeting, which had not been announced in advance, Putin congratulated the Syrian leader on what he said were significant successes on the battlefield achieved by the Syrian military. At the invitation of Russian President Putin, Modi will visit Russia on May, 21 wherein the two leaders will exchange views on worldwide matters in a broad and long-term perspective with the objective of further strengthening the "Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership".

The sanctions themselves, however, are "not on the agenda", Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The UN has hosted several rounds of peace talks in Geneva that have made no progress towards ending the conflict.

Moscow has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war since 2015, ensuring the survival of a Middle Eastern ally and guaranteeing continued access to the strategically vital Mediterranean Sea.

Russian state television on Thursday aired footage of the two leaders meeting.

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Putin and Assad stressed the need for a political solution to the conflict. More than 450,000 people have been killed.

For his side, Assad on Thursday said that many positive changes have taken place as the terrorists' arena in Syria has become much smaller and hundreds of thousands of Syrians have returned to their homes and millions of others are on their way back.

Since March, about 200,000 people were forced to relocate to other parts of the country as part of surrender deals after crippling sieges and bombardment by government forces, according to the United Nations, which says the practice amounts to forced displacement.

Information for this article was contributed by Sarah El Deeb and Albert Aji of The Associated Press.

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