The commander of the Al-Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qassem Soleimani, held talks in Moscow last week with President Vladimir Putin, Iran’s semi-state Fars news agency reported Wednesday.
“General Soleimani held a meeting with President Putin and high-ranking Russian military and security officials during a three-day visit last week to pursue the issues raised during the (late November) meeting between Putin and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei (in Tehran),” Fars quoted unofficial sources saying.
Fars said Putin discussed the “latest developments in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon” with Soleimani, and referred to him as “my friend, Qassem.”
It also said that the IRGC denied the report, but noted that, since Soleimani is under constant threat by enemies including “Israeli and American secret services,” his activities are generally conducted in secret.
Fars noted that Soleimani was reportedly instrumrental in encouraging Putin to enter the Syrian civil war in support of Iran-backed President Bashar Assad, having previously visited Moscow to meet Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in July.
Last month, Fars claimed that Soleimani was behind the rescue of a Russian pilot downed by Turkey in Syria, and that he had also been lightly injured days earlier during fighting near Aleppo.
“Soleimani promised them to return the Russian pilot safe and sound; a promise that was kept in the end, according to the Syrian officer,” the report said.
The US had said some 2,000 Iranian or Iranian-backed forces were participating in the regime’s Aleppo operations.
Iran has not officially acknowledged sending troops to Syria, but says it has “advisers” on the ground assisting regime forces.
Iran-backed Hezbollah also acknowledges its forces are fighting on the ground, and the presence of Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan “volunteers” has been documented. Hezbollah has seen between 1,300 and 1,500 of its fighters killed in battles in the Syrian civil war, which means that together with the wounded it has lost as much as a third of its fighting force, according to Israeli estimates this week.