UN Syria Envoy Makes Rare Statement Urging Putin to Have the 'Courage' to Push Assad Out

Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces

From left, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad attend a meeting at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017
Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

The U.N. Syria envoy has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have the courage” to push the Syrian government to accept new elections and a new constitution.

In an unusual public appeal directly to a key powerbroker in the region, Staffan de Mistura told a TV interviewer the Russian leader should “convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose” in efforts to reach peace in Syria after more than 6-1/2 years of war.

Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, though Putin announced a drawdown of Russian military forces in Syria this week. He made the announcement during a visit to a Russian military base in Syria in the wake of successes against extremist militants.

Asked on Swiss broadcaster RTS what signal Putin could provide now, de Mistura alluded to how territorial gains would be “temporary. But the peace must be won — and for the peace to be won, it’s necessary to have the courage to push the government also to accept that there must be a new constitution and new elections.”

The comments late Wednesday to Swiss broadcaster RTS came near the end of the eighth round of intra-Syrian peace talks under his mediation since early 2016, which is set to end Friday at the latest. A new session was set to take place on Thursday morning, and de Mistura was signaling frustration at the lack of progress in the round.

De Mistura said it was “regrettable” that Assad’s delegation had refused to meet face-to-face with the opposition in what have been indirect talks in Geneva.

He re-emphasized the importance of a U.N. role in any peace process, and held up a color-coded map showing the divisions of territorial control in the war-battered country. Syria’s war is estimated to have killed at least 400,000 people and driven more than 12 million people from their homes.