Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Visits Russia in 1st Foreign Trip Since Conflict

President Vladimir Putin invited Bashar al-Assad to the Kremlin.

— -- The White House criticized Russia for its "red carpet welcome" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who made a surprise visit to Moscow to meet President Putin for his first foreign trip since the civil war began in 2011.

"We are aware of this travel. We view the red carpet welcome for Assad who has used chemical weapons against his own people at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said. "We urge Russia to use its its influence with the Syrian regime to press for political transition. We know right now what they're doing is counterproductive."

Putin and Assad met Tuesday after the Russian president sent an invitation to his Syrian counterpart.

Despite only being in Moscow for one day, before returning to Damascus, Assad managed to attend meetings at the Kremlin with Russian foreign ministers, a closed meeting between the two heads of state and a working lunch.

Assad reportedly thanked Putin for “standing by Syria’s territorial integrity and its independence.”

A statement posted on the Syrian presidency’s official Facebook page says the meetings were to “discuss the continuation of the military operations against terrorism in Syria. The aim of the military operation is to eradicate terrorism that is obstructing a political solution.”

The visit demonstrates Assad’s renewed confidence after Russia began carrying out air strikes against Syrian insurgents and ISIS.

The conflict in Syria began in 2011 after the government cracked down violently on mostly peaceful protests against Assad's rule. The protests developed into an armed uprising and a civil war that has killed almost 250,000 people.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.