CAIRO Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir traveled to Damascus on Sunday, catching many observers by surprise. According to Arab media, the visit is part of a Russian strategy to rehabilitate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and reintegrate his government into mainstream Arab politics.
It was the first visit by an Arab head of state to the Syrian capital since the Assad government was expelled from the Arab League in 2011.
Saudi-owned Asharqalawsat newspaper reports the main purpose of the visit was to deliver a message that major Arab nations are willing to allow Damascus to rejoin the Cairo-based Arab League.
The fact that Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, traveled to Syria on board a Russian plane suggests some measure of Russian eagerness to rehabilitate both Bashir and Assad, who has been ostracized by most Western leaders.
University of Paris political scientist Khattar Abou Diab tells VOA the Sudanese president is flirting between the United States and Russia, to see what he can get financially, given Sudan's current economic difficulties.
He says the irony of the Bashir visit to Damascus is that both the Sudanese and Syrian presidents are suffering from economic difficulties, but neither has much in the way of financial support to offer each other.
Abou Diab says Bashir is an "opportunist, who has been allies with just about everyone from Iran, to Saudi Arabia, and to Turkey and Qatar, with whom he shares sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood."
American University of Beirut political science teacher Hilal Khashan tells VOA he believes Bashir traveled to Damascus at the urging of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"It is obvious to me that the Saudis urged Bashir, who is the recipient of their financial aid, to travel to Damascus to pave the road for Syria's reintegration into the Arab League," Khashan said. "Remember when Mohammed bin Salman visited Buenos Aires recently for the G-20 summit? The only guy who welcomed him warmly was Putin, so I think Putin convinced Mohammed bin Salman to do something about Assad in order to reintegrate Syria in the Arab League."
Russia has maintained backing for the Assad government throughout Syria's civil war.
Two years ago, Russia withdrew from the International Criminal Court, which it called "one-sided." Bashir is wanted by the court for alleged crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region.
He has periodically defied the court by traveling abroad to countries that decline to arrest him.
Source: Voice of America