King Hamad expresses hope for 'imminent victory' after presenting Russian president with sword made of Damascus steel
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa presented Russian President Vladimir Putin with a "sword of victory” made from Damascus steel during a visit to Russia that included talks with his host about the crisis in Syria.
King Hamad and Putin exchanged gifts during a meeting at the Russian leader's residence in Sochi on the Black Sea coast on Monday, with Putin presenting the Gulf state ruler with a race horse, according to the Kremlin's press office.
“This [sword] was made under the kingdom’s orders,” Khalifa told Putin through an interpreter. “It has a very sharp blade.”
“We called it the sword of victory,” he added. “For imminent victory, God willing.”
Khalifa appeared to be referring to Russia's role in Syria, where its military forces have been conducting air strikes in support of the Syrian government since September last year.
Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has said that its air strikes are primarily directed against the Islamic State group, but human rights organisations and opposition activists have accused Russia of targeting rebel groups and civilians, including in the course of a government offensive around Aleppo in the north of the country from which tens of thousands of refugees have fled.
Putin and Khalifa also discussed economic cooperation and pledged to increase bilateral relations between the two countries, with Putin calling Bahrain an “important partner in the Gulf and the entire Middle East”.
Speaking after the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two countries had agreed to boost economic and military ties and to work together to combat terrorism and extremism in the Gulf states and in the Middle East in general.
Putin also invited King Hamad to ski with him, although the king declined the offer, according to a transcript of their meeting published by the Kremlin.
Bahrain has traditionally maintained close relations with western powers. It is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, while construction work recently began on a new British navy base.