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

Bashar al-Assad has travelled to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin

Syrian President Bashar Assad made a surprise visit to Russian Federation to meet President Vladimir Putin on Thursday at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

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".

India is not going to allow in any manner its defence programe to be dictated by any other country, the government said here on Thursday when all eyes are on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first "informal" Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 21.

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Putin noted at the Sochi meeting that Russian warships near Syria will be armed with the advanced Kalibr cruise missile, a supersonic weapon that can easily evade ship-based missile defense systems.

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. The UN has hosted several rounds of peace talks in Geneva that have made no progress towards ending the conflict.

The informal summit in the Russian beach resort will be more or less on the lines of the summit Modi held with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan late last month.

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Russia, Iran and Turkey have been attempting to resolve the conflict in the talks that started past year in Astana in competition with a United States and UN-backed Geneva initiative.

This assumes significance against the backdrop of the challenge posed to India-Russia defence partnership by impending USA sanctions against several Russian entities involved in military supplies to India under the controversial Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

The Russian President is also meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in the next few weeks.

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