Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has revealed that his children had a holiday last year at Artek, a famous Russian youth camp on the Black Sea.
President Assad and his wife Asma have two sons – Hafez (16) and Karim (13) – and a daughter, Zein (14).
Artek symbolised communist values in Soviet times and remains a popular resort. It lies in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.
Russia’s military support for Mr Assad has revived strong Soviet-era ties.
“My children were at Artek last year. After that trip they had a better understanding of Russia,” Mr Assad said, according to Russian MP Dmitry Sablin, who met him in Damascus on Sunday.
The meeting with Russian MPs took place soon after Western missile strikes on Syrian state targets, as Western governments blamed Mr Assad’s forces for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
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Artek’s director Alexei Kasprzhak told BBC Russian that he did not know about the Assad children’s arrival at the camp.
“The children who come to us don’t always give their mothers’ and fathers’ names,” he said.
But the Assad name caused a stir at the camp, he explained, “and it turned out that it really was them [the Assad children]”, he said.
They were among 44 Syrian children who had holidays at Artek last year, under a scheme provided for the children of Russian military personnel.
Russian warplanes have pounded rebel forces in Syria since Moscow intervened in September 2015, enabling Mr Assad’s troops to recapture much lost ground.
Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, said a year ago that Mr Assad’s children were learning Russian, and that it was now the main foreign language studied in Syrian schools.
He also said many Syrian parents were now naming their boys “Putin” in honour of the Russian president.
Russia’s Artek youth camp hosted Assad children}