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The World's Strongest Teenage Girl Is Helping Russia Show Off Its Ties With Syria

16 year-old Maryana Naumova is a weightlifting champion and visited Syria just as Moscow is boosting support.

Posted on September 15, 2015, at 12:04 p.m. ET

Over the last week, Russia has made abundantly clear that it is increasing its support for Syria, which is in the midst of a four-year long civil war and fighting against ISIS, deploying military advisers and setting up a forward operating base.

Ivan Sekretarev / AP

Moscow has backed Damascus throughout the civil war, both militarily and diplomatically, blocking United Nations Security Council resolutions that would have placed pressure on the Syrian government or condemned it for human rights abuses.

Russia is now doubling down on both forms of support. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday made the case for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in office, saying that the embattled leader was ready to share power with the "healthy opposition." And on Tuesday, he said Russia supports "the government of Syria in its fight against terrorist aggression, we provide and will go on providing it with all necessary military assistance."
Alexei Nikolsky / AP

Russia is now doubling down on both forms of support. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday made the case for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in office, saying that the embattled leader was ready to share power with the "healthy opposition." And on Tuesday, he said Russia supports "the government of Syria in its fight against terrorist aggression, we provide and will go on providing it with all necessary military assistance."

That's where 16-year old weightlifting champion Maryana Naumova enters the picture.

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Naumova, a four-time world champion and multiple world record holder, is a celebrity in Russia, snapping photographs with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and drawing controversy for visiting rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

Last week, she accepted an invitation to visit Syria, and has produced a string of photos and videos of her time meeting government officials.

On her VKontakte page, Naumova posted a picture posing with Syrian soldiers.

Naumova also met with Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, who was infamously profiled just before the start of the civil war. The weightlifter referred to Asma, the woman who first invited her to Syria, both "courageous" and "amazing" on Facebook.

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She even joined Syrian children in singing "Happy Birthday" to President Assad, complete with a cake topped with the Syrian flag.

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But the timing of her trip and its promotion of the Syrian government happening to coincide with a new burst of Russian support for Assad could just be a coincidence.

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