Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise visit to Syria's capital, Damascus, where he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and held consultations with Russian military officials.
The visit on Orthodox Christmas Day on January 7 comes at a time of heightened regional tension, when Assad's other main military ally Iran has said it will retaliate for the killing of a top Iranian commander killed in a U.S. drone strike last week.
As head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, Major General Qasem Soleimani was the architect of the country's military operations across the Middle East and one of the key figures in Syria's civil war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow that Putin traveled in a vehicle on the streets of the Syrian capital from Damascus International Airport to the headquarters of the Russian Armed Forces group in the country.
Peskov said Putin was met by Assad at the headquarters building.
"The leaders heard military reports on development in various regions of the country," Peskov said.
Putin and Assad listened to a military presentation by the commander of Russian forces in Syria, said Syria's presidential office, which posted a picture of the two leaders shaking hands.
The two leaders also paid a visit to Damascus's Greek Orthodox Mariamite Cathedral, according to Syrian state media.
It was Putin's first visit to Damascus and only his second visit to Syria since Russia began offering military support to Syrian government forces in its long-running conflict.
The Russian president's last trip to Syria was a visit to the Russian military base of Hmeimim, in the coastal city of Latakia, in 2017.
Late on January 7, Putin landed in Istanbul for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has backed rebel groups in the Syrian conflict and sent forces into northern Syria to push back Kurdish-led fighters.
The two leaders are also due to inaugurate on January 8 the Turkstream gas pipeline that will carry Russian gas to Turkey.