Russia has been widely criticized for its military intervention in Syria to prop up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Among other things, the Russian military has been accused of bombing schools and hospitals.
But one Syrian man has been traveling for months on horseback from Damascus to Moscow to "bow before, hug, and kiss," President Vladimir Putin to thank the Russian leader for all he has done to "fight terrorism" in Syria.
Adnan Azzam set out from the Syrian capital last April on the more-than-3,000-kilometer journey to Moscow. Besides showering Putin with praise, the 63-year-old Syrian, a lawyer by training and a writer by profession, plans to hand over to Putin an Arabian stallion -- named the Star of Putin -- as a gift.
Azzam had planned to be in Moscow by January 15, but complications arose in Tula Oblast, just south of the Russian capital. Ullubii, a friend from Daghestan who is serving as fixer and translator for Azzam in Russia, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on January 16 that Azzam had been robbed of the equivalent of $4,000 at a cafe.
The thieves were eventually tracked down and the money returned, Ullubii, who declined to give his last name, explained.
Azzam is now in Moscow Oblast, according to Ullubii, and is set to enter the Russian capital any day now.
But it is unclear whether he will actually be able to meet Putin.
"He will definitely gift the horse to Putin," Ullubii said. "But whether he meets with Putin or someone in his administration, I don't know."
Ullubii (left) with Azzan and Star of Putin in Daghestan
Putin is no stranger to getting animals as gifts, even of the equine variety.
In March 2019, Putin received an Orlov Trotter breed horse and a Taigan sighthound puppy as gifts from Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, according to TASS.
In October 2017, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov gave Putin a Turkmen shepherd dog.
The alabai is a home-bred Turkmen variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog. Along with the handmade carpets and the ancient Akhal Teke breed of race horses, it is officially listed as part of Turkmenistan's national heritage.
Putin also got a Bulgarian sheepdog from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in 2010. Putin has also received an Akita named Yume from a Japanese provincial governor, and a black Labrador named Konni, who died in 2014, from then Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu in 2000.
Asked whether Azzam had been put off by stories of a Siberian shaman being detained by Russian police as he tries to trek across Russia to drive Putin out of the Kremlin, Ullubii said there was no comparison between the two.
"Of course not," he said. "[Azzam] is going to bow down, hug, and kiss Putin," Ullubij said.
Azzam has already traversed Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
He had been traveling with two horses until tragedy struck in Iran when a truck ran into him and the horses. One horse died, but Azzam and Star of Putin escaped serious injury.
From that moment, he got off the mount and continued his journey on foot.
In October, Azzam reached Chechnya, where a hoped-for meeting with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov never materialized.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.