Syrian opposition say Russia trying to undercut UN talks
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition members said Wednesday that Russia’s plans to host Syrian groups and government representatives for political talks are an attempt to undercut U.N. efforts to resolve the country’s conflict.
Alise Mofrej, a senior member of the opposition Higher Negotiations Committee, said Russia’s proposal launches a new track parallel that undermines the internationally-backed Geneva talks, mediated by the United Nations.
Russia is “trying hard to cancel” the U.N. process, Mofrej said. She wrote on Twitter that Russia is creating “tactical” and “destructive” parallel tracks, with representatives from Syrian opposition groups she described as close to Moscow.
It’s not clear if Mofrej’s statements meant the internationally-backed opposition umbrella group would boycott the meeting, expected on Nov. 18 — 10 days before the U.N.-sponsored talks are to start in Geneva.
Russia is one of the main backers of the Syrian government. Moscow’s military involvement in the conflict since 2015 has propped President Bashar Assad’s troops and Russian mediation earlier this year launched cease-fire talks that established four “de-escalation” zones. The zones have significantly reduced violence though they have not tackled a political settlement.
On Tuesday, Russia’s top diplomat to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev announced at the closing of the seventh round of cease-fire talks that his country will now host political talks.
Russia invited over a dozen groups, a mix of political opposition parties in Syria and in exile, the main U.S.-backed Kurdish party now in control of northern Syria and Syrian government representatives.
Lavrentyev said the Nov. 18 gathering in Sochi will discuss a draft of a new constitution and prepare parliamentary and presidential elections under U.N. monitoring.
Syria’s government said it would participate.
Mofrej, the opposition deputy, said such invites further divide the Syrians, deepening disagreement.
Another opposition member, Ahmed Ramadan, said the Russian invite “bypasses” the United Nations and existing U.N. resolutions.
“If Russia was serious about supporting the political process, it should pressure Assad’s regime to stop its crimes and to participate in serious and direct negotiations in Geneva,” Ramadan said.
For Kurdish officials from northern Syria, the invitation was a serious effort to include them in talks for a political settlement. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or the PYD, is the dominant group in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Council and Forces fighting Islamic State militants in northern Syria. The party is also the engine behind the semi-autonomous Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria that has made major territorial gains in the wake of the IS defeat.
Badran Ciya Kurd, an adviser for the Kurdish-led self-administration, told The Associated Press the Sochi meeting could be a vehicle for major political changes in Syria and that the Kurdish-led administration, not the PYD, would use the venue to promote its proposal for a federal system in Syria.
“The meeting won’t be in the name of a political party. There is a political entity, an administration and a political project that is already on the ground,” said Ciya Kurd, who met with Russian officials ahead of the invitation.