Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, with reports from Moscow and Damascus calling it another “serious” attempt to forge a peace process between Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel factions in the country. Since the failure of the Geneva Initiative roughly 10 months ago, there has not been another diplomatic attempt to solve the Syrian crisis, and the international community has been focusing on dealing with the Islamic State.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, considered to be supportive of Assad, quoted Syrian officials saying the latest Russian proposals are not new, but that the Russians are trying to utilize the battle with Islamic State to trigger a process aimed at creating a unity government that would take power out of the presidential palace, leaving Assad as a figurehead.
However, the Russians are adamant that Assad’s resignation not be a precondition for negotiations, which is a demand made by Washington and the Syrian opposition. Earlier this week, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that only the Syrian people, not any foreign elements, can decide on the character of Syria’s future government.
A senior official in the Syrian opposition that recently met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Haaretz that one should not place great hopes in Mualem’s meetings with Putin, and that conditions are not yet ripe for a diplomatic process. “The Americans and the international community are busy in Iran and the future of Iraq, they’ve cast Syria aside, and thus if we want to be optimistic, perhaps this meeting will spark some progress. As far as we know, the Russians are trying to advance an initiative alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as well, based on the common goal of fighting terror.”