Russian failure in Sochi?

Russian failure in Sochi?

While Moscow has been trying to gain time to achieve a peace deal in Syria, Bashar Assad’s forces carried out 93 raids in the Idlib countryside, including bombing civilian neighborhoods with helicopter gunships. Moreover, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas shelled the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people are trapped.

How could all this happen during peace negotiations? And why do Russia, Iran and other countries think that Syrian opposition negotiators will accept any solution when the message being sent to the Syrian people is war, destruction and displacement?

Negotiators in Sochi may see military escalation as a means of forcing the opposition to accept an agreement, which is what usually happens in wars. But this will not happen in the Syrian case. Negotiators could not sign any agreement without local approval and the support of regional and other powers. In fact, the shelling of Syrian cities and towns spoils the Sochi negotiations, not help its cause.

Worse than the intensification of military operations is the leak of a disappointing draft document that does not include any changes that could convince Syrians and the world of the seriousness of diplomatic efforts in Sochi. Indeed, the Syrian opposition is being asked to surrender and accept the preservation of the Syrian regime and political system; as the document seeks to impose the status quo.

However, forcing Syrians to accept it will lead to the continuation of hostilities for many years to come, and the Assad regime will lose everything that the Russians and Iranians have fought for, and achieved in the past three years.

But even as we disagree with Moscow about some details in Syria, we cannot ignore the importance of the Sochi negotiations, and of what could be achieved there if presented in a reasonable manner.

The interests of all Syrians lie in ending the war and meeting the opposition’s reasonable and just demands to participate in higher political institutions, and to guarantee regional security and Syrian sovereignty by removing Iranian and other militias. Thus, failure in Sochi would mean the failure of the Russians, which would further widen the conflict.

The interests of all Syrians lie in ending the war and meeting the opposition’s reasonable and just demands.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

The situation has become even more complicated with Turkey’s direct engagement in the war, the divisions this has caused, and the ensuing dispute with the US, which — like Russia and Iran — has become militarily active in Syria.

Moscow still has important cards, including the ability to pressure Assad and Iran, which enables it to impose a more reasonable solution than what is on offer now. But all the indications thus far point to failure in Sochi because of the insistence of Assad’s allies to impose a "surrender agreement" rather than peace. Delegates will then head to Vienna to start a different peace process that may not have better chances of success than the Sochi and Geneva conferences.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.
Twitter: @aalrashed
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