03:41 GMT28 January 2021
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    PETROPAVLOSVSK-KAMCHATSKIY, Russia (Sputnik) - Russian President Vladimir Putin's last year visit to Damascus was prepared in total secrecy, Igor Kostyukov, the head of the Russian General Staff's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), has said.

    "And in those difficult circumstances, we had to keep the preparations for the visit in absolute secrecy. That meant that the circle of people involved was very limited," Kostyukov said in a documentary about the visit, broadcast by the Russian Rossiya 1 TV channel.

    Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, explained the level of secrecy by referring to Eastern social and cultural practices.

    "[Share] any information - and half of Syria will know about it in about ten minutes. And this is all talked about by mobile phone etc.," Gerasimov said.

    The general staff chief went on to say that significant steps had been taken to prevent any leaks.

    "And what is the best way [to avoid] a leak? Better not to relate that information to them. So, we had to work in that mode," Gerasimov added.

    In order to keep Putin's visit secret, the organizers spread a rumor about a trip by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

    "We had to organize implementation of all those tasks to provide the security of the visit without revealing the meaning and goals of those actions. At first, we spread a rumor and created a cover that it was the defence minister who was visiting," Gerasimov stated.

    Kostyukov noted that the situation in Syria at the time was quite concerning due to the activities of Damascus' opponents.

    "So, the situation in both the country and the capital, despite the trends towards improvement, was nevertheless causing certain concerns," the GRU chief noted.

    Gerasimov confirmed that the preparations were kept secret despite the need to check the movement routes in Damascus, demine the road as well as adjacent buildings and send radiation, chemical and biological defence specialists to inspect them.

    On 7 January 2020, Putin made a trip to the Syrian capital of Damascus, which included a visit to the Russian forces' command post in the country, negotiations with his counterpart, Bashar Assad, as well as a visit to the Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus and the Umayyad Mosque.

    Damascus, Vladimir Putin, Russia
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