Syria peace talks: can opposition have confidence in Russia?

Syria peace talks: Does opposition have confidence in Russia?

As the first day of the Syria peace talks in Astana ended with a tension between the government and opposition delegations, the opposition said they were optimistic about the results and that Russia wants a solution in Syria. However, can the Russian part be ever trusted?

Russia said it has a new plan for Syria peace talks which can be achieved with powers that have a real effect on the Syrian ground after its forces backed Assad regime to achieve many victories against the opposition and tilted the tide of war in his favor.

Russia, Iran and Turkey said they were ready to help broker a Syria peace deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that that Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including a ceasefire deal that will be guaranteed by Turkey and Russia.

The documents include a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition, measures to monitor the ceasefire deal and a statement on the readiness to start peace talks to settle the Syrian crisis, Putin said.

The ceasefire went into effect on December 29 but has been breached numerous times by Assad regime and the Iran-backed militias especially around Damascus city.

The opposition delegation said at first that they will not attend the talks in Astana due to the regime breaches, then said they will take part and focus on finding ways to maintain the ceasefire and protect the civilians.

“At this stage, we have one goal, which has been agreed upon by all the parties included. That is to consolidate the ceasefire. That is why we came here,” Osama Abu Zaid, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, one of the rebel groups fighting Assad’s government, said.

“Russia wants a solution”

The peace talks started on Monday with the regime and opposition trading blames over ceasefire breaches and how this threatens to undermine the talks. In addition, opposition said they want the ceasefire to be the first step in ending the war.

“We haven’t seen any signs of commitment to the ceasefire; there should be clarity and agreement on this first,” said Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi.

Bashar al-Jaafari, the head of the Syrian government delegation, also accused rebels of not keeping their end in the ceasefire deal – particularly in Wadi Barada, a strategic area in the Damascus suburbs and home to a major water facility.

In addition, Jaafari repeatedly referred to the rebel delegation as representatives of “terrorist armed groups” and said the agenda for the talks is “not ready yet”.

Mohammed Alloush, a leader of the powerful Jaysh al-Islam group who heads the rebel delegation, said the rebels were prepared to keep fighting if no deal was possible, and while a political solution to the civil war was the rebels’ preferred choice, it was not the only one. “We came here to reinforce the ceasefire as the first phase of this process,” he said.

The opposition added that the Russians seek a solution in Syria after its intervention has achieved its goal in saving Assad.

“We noticed a real understanding on the part of the Russians,” Yahya al-Aridi, an opposition spokesman, told reporters.

“We understand that militarily they have achieved what they wanted in Syria. Now they want to translate this military achievement into some sort of political deal. That has to be a ceasefire.”

“I think that it is an important and symbolic step which gives a hope for a new quality level in the negotiation process,” Russian delegation head Alexander Lavrentiev told reporters.

“The level of distrust that we have observed went down considerably, and they [Syrian opposition] finally understood that they are dealing with a reliable partner in the face of the Russian Federation,” Lavrentiev told reporters, commenting on the meeting with the opposition earlier in the day.

Diplomats said Russia, Turkey and Iran were working on a final communique that could be completed as early as Tuesday.

Can Russia be trusted?

Some analysts said that Russia is seeking the political solution in Syria to stabilize the conflicts in the region and end the big economic burden the war in Syria cost. Some even said that Russia is cooperation with Turkey as they have common goals to reduce Iran’s influence.

Russia needs Syria as a strong country that serves as an ally in the future. Russia wanted to use the peace talks to end in a political solution that ends the Syrian crisis and stops the war and military operations, as the more this war lasts the more Syria will be destroyed and harder to be rebuilt again.

On the contrary, Iran refuses any reconciliation between the government and the rebels. Iran wants the war to last until all the opposition forces are annihilated not caring for the destruction and lost lives. Iran needs Syria as a weak and destroyed land which will be easier to control and easier to be shaped in the future in the way that serves Iran’s goals.

However, others said that this move is just a show, as Russia is with the criminals said in Syria and what it weeks won’t surely benefit the Syrians.

By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention, and Iran increased the number of its forces in Syria tilting the ride of war in Assad regime’s favor.

Russian forces helped Assad regime in the bombing, shelling and killing the Syrian civilians and is on the same side with Assad regime no matter what.

The rebels said it appeared the government and the opposition had signed two different versions of the ceasefire deal signed earlier, one of which was missing “a number of key and essential points that are non-negotiable”, but did not say what those were.

This statement showed that the rebels may be forced to renew the fighting.

“They [Syrian rebel groups] have sent an urgent appeal to the UN and to Turkey, who is the key player in the ceasefire, to negotiate with the Russians and try to stop the Syria government from fighting, warning that if the fighting continues there will be no option but to resume the fighting,” a journalist said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.