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President Bashar Asad of Syria arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit on Monday
President Bashar Asad of Syria arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit on Monday. This trip comes against the backdrop of growing pressure from Washington on Damascus. Meanwhile analysts believe that Russia is trying to enhance its role in the Middle East, while Syria is trying to use Russia as a counterweight to the US, writes Vedomosti. Vladimir Putin and Mr. Asad announced after talks yesterday that they had agreed to write off most Syrian debts that had accumulated since the Soviet period. The total Syrian debt is $13.4 billion and the sides agreed to write off 73%, or $9.7 billion. The remaining $3.7 billion will be repaid by installments. This money will be either channeled into the Syrian economy or used to buy various goods. "One can hardly talk about major Russian financial losses in connection with the decision to write off most Syrian debts," Vladimir Tikhomirov, senior economist with the UralSib company, noted. "It was highly unlikely that the debt would be repaid." A source in the Russian defense industry noted that an agreement on the delivery of Thor-M1 or Pantsir-S1 short-range surface-to-air missile complexes worth up to $400 million would be signed during Mr. Asad's visit. These complexes are principally designed to down cruise missiles, a spokesperson for the International Institute of Strategic Research explained. Consequently, neither the US nor Israel should be seriously concerned if Syria were to receive a small batch of these weapons systems, even though both Washington and Tel Aviv will still voice their indignation. According to the expert, the sale of these missiles will not seriously influence the balance of forces in the Middle East. Nor will this deal violate arms-control agreements. The Russian-Syrian trade was worth an estimated $218 million last year after totaling $194 million in 2003
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