Russia Surprised as Syrian Opposition Boycotts Kazakhstan TalksBy
Russian official says he hopes this won’t derail negotiations
UN due to resume Syria peace talks in Geneva this month
Russia expressed surprise as Syrian armed opposition groups boycotted talks in Kazakhstan in protest at what they said were cease-fire violations by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The opposition decided to stay away from the two-day meeting that got underway Tuesday in the Kazakh capital, Astana, because of attacks by Syrian government troops and allied militias, said a representative, Osama Abu Zaid.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that he’d try to find out what happened “unexpectedly” regarding the opposition’s participation. The head of Russia’s delegation to the Astana talks, Alexander Lavrentiev, said the boycott didn’t mean negotiations had broken down, the Interfax news service reported. Russia has proposed setting up committees to discuss a new constitution for Syria, he added.
The setback for Russia’s effort to push the Syrian peace process comes after it seized the diplomatic initiative following military successes by Assad’s forces with Russian support. Russia and Iran, which back the government, and Turkey, a sponsor of the opposition, are overseeing a shaky truce that entered into force in December.
Russian officials say they would like the U.S., which has taken a back seat in the Syrian settlement since the election of President Donald Trump, to play a more active role. The United Nations is due to hold a new round of peace talks from March 23 after an earlier round that ended this month made some progress by agreeing on an agenda for the negotiations.