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MOSCOW: Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has visited Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad and to inspect a Russian air base in the war-torn country, his ministry said Tuesday, amid heightened tensions between the West and Moscow over Ukraine.

During in a meeting in Damascus, Shoigu "informed the Syrian president about the exercises of the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean," Russia's defence ministry said in a statement.

The two discussed "military-technical cooperation as part of the joint fight" against international terrorism and Russian humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria "suffering from the prohibitive sanctions of the United States and Western countries".

Shoigu also inspected Russia's Hmeimim air base in western Syria, the statement said.

It wasn't clear from the statement precisely when the meeting took place.

Moscow has been a key ally of the Assad regime throughout the Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russia's parliament asks Putin to recognise breakaway east Ukrainian regions

Russia's military intervention in 2015 helped turn the tide of the war in Assad's favour and Moscow maintains military bases in the country.

Russia's political and military support for Syria has been a particular sticking point in Moscow's relations with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow for bolstering the Assad regime.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have soared in recent, with the West accusing the Kremlin of amassing troops on its border with Ukraine in advance of a possible invasion.

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