Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Getting ready for Moscow II

The last meeting Moscow held on the Syrian crisis was unsuccessful, so why is it planning a second one, asks Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

When it comes to Syria, the Russians have long bet on the wrong horse. Instead of siding with the people, they have sided with the regime. And instead of putting pressure on the regime to make concessions, they want the opposition to surrender.

The last time the Russians arranged a meeting on the crisis in Syria in Moscow, presumably to explore ways to end the civil war, the hardcore Syrian opposition refused to take part.

Only minor parties posing as opposition members but really tied to the regime agreed to go. Some also had their travelling expense paid for by the regime.

The results were dismal. Not only did the Moscow I Conference produce no tangible results, but it also allowed the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to pose as a legitimate player in forging the country’s future.

No wonder the opposition members who refused to go to Moscow I have taken no interest whatsoever in the planned Moscow II.

However, the Russians are taking things in their stride, and the Russian Foreign Ministry is planning to hold a gathering for consultations in Moscow on 6 April, presumably to discuss Syria’s future “without preconditions,” as Russian officials have noted.

The credible opposition groups led by the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) are not taking part.

Moscow, which has sent invitations to selected members of the opposition and the government, says the second Moscow event will continue to discuss the same themes as the previous one.

But with no agenda set up for the talks, no framework of principles, no desired outcome, no formula for proposals, and no guarantees for implementation, Moscow II is not going to be just a failure, but will also be an exercise in futility designed to do more harm than good.

Posing as a rival to the Geneva talks, the Moscow dialogue aims to reverse the principles stated in the Geneva Declaration, such as the formation of an interim government with a full mandate to manage the transition to democracy and the restructuring of the army and security services.

Every step of the way Moscow has exhibited a bias towards the regime. The Russians consulted the regime about the members of the opposition allowed to the meeting, but did not consult the opposition about the members of the regime’s delegation. 

At the end of Moscow I, Vitaly Naumkin, who facilitated the meeting, came up with a statement he described as a Moscow Declaration of Principles (MDP).

At first, Naumkin said that the MDP document was approved by both the opposition and the government, but he then retracted this claim. It later turned out that he had written the declaration himself with the government delegation and without consulting the opposition.

The only significant thing about the MDP is that it indicates what is on Russia’s mind. The MDP permits the regime to bring foreign fighters into Syria, for example, including from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon to help it stay in power.

The MDP also demotes the Geneva Declaration from being the ultimate guideline for change in Syria to being an optional document that can be altered or scrapped at will.

Haytham Manna, a Syrian opposition member who was invited to Moscow I but refused to go, revealed that some opposition members had asked the Russians to postpone the new meeting until the opposition meets in Cairo in the second half of April, but their request had been denied.

Syrian opposition member Samir Aita, a member of the State Building Current, went to Moscow I. Although he was less than satisfied with the outcome, he hopes that Moscow II will be more effective.

“The first round of consultations didn’t produce much, but the second round will have to take into account the Iranian nuclear deal and the developments in Yemen,” he said.

Things are changing, he added, and “this means that the situation in Syria cannot stay the same forever. Russia is aware of that.”

This time round, Moscow is inviting more people and issuing invitations to organisations and not just individuals. But the opposition remains sceptical all the same.

Louay Hussein, leader of the State Building Current, declined to take part in Moscow I, but has agreed to attend Moscow II.

In the first meeting, “the participants of the pro-regime groups outnumbered those of the opposition,” he recalled. “But this time invitations were sent to groups that are in clear opposition to the regime,” he noted.

Moscow II doesn’t amount to “negotiations to resolve the Syrian crisis, and we shouldn’t expect steps leading to a solution,” Hussein explained. “This is just a preparatory meeting to pave the ground for serious negotiations with the regime,” he said.

Other members of the opposition disagree, however. Nothing about Moscow II is serious, they say, except the attempt to rehabilitate a doomed regime.

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