The National Council of Resistance – Iran has captured a news story from Iranian state media outlet Fars that claims Russian leader Vladimir Putin met with Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani during a trip Suleimani is supposed to have made to Russia last week. The outlet cited “unofficial sources,” but claimed that Putin had called Suleimani “my friend Qassem” during the visit.
Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the story, stating that no such visit had ever happened. No other media outlet has reported the story as accurate.
Suleimani’s health has been much debated since his injury in Syria early last month. According to sources within the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Suleimani’s convoy was struck by artillery while he was visiting forces engaged in combat. He suffered shrapnel injuries, reportedly to his head, and was evacuated to Tehran for surgery. At least two surgeries have been conducted according to reports. However, the Iranian government has been at pains to deny that the injuries are serious, going so far as to describe his health as “perfect.” Last month the Iranian government promised that Suleimani would speak at a “Student’s Day” event, but he failed to appear without explanation.
Suleimani is the major figure in Iran’s efforts in Syria and Iraq. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and of Afghan anti-smuggling campaigns, he took over the Quds Force’s unconventional warfare operations in time for the American invasion of Iraq. During that campaign, he is thought to have arranged the deaths of at least a thousand Americans by the erection and support of Shi’a militias ideologically loyal to Tehran instead of to Baghdad‘s Shi’ite-led government. The influence of these militias today keeps Baghdad under the thumb of Iran in spite of its occasionally independent interests.
In Syria, the Quds Force has taken a leadership role in partnership with Russian forces due to its network of Shi’a militias being able to provide targeting information for Russian airstrikes and naval gunnery. Suleimani had traveled to Moscow in the months before the Russian deployment, in violation of international travel sanctions that remain in place even after the Iran Deal, in order to plan the joint Russian/Iranian campaign in Syria.