Moscow – As sharp disputes continue around Syria peace talks set for this week, both Russia and U.S.-led coalition are continuing to pummel targets in Syria. Hopes for a quick progress in peace efforts are dim, as the planned talks in Geneva are marred by ongoing arguments about which opposition groups should be allowed to take part.
Both Russia and the U.S. appear to be pressing for the talks to start, and it helped searching for a compromise. Russia has agreed to drop its objections against the attendance by militant groups backed by the Saudis, while the U.S. in exchange has opened the door for involvement of some Syrian opposition groups friendly to Moscow.
Despite their showdown over Ukraine, Moscow and Washington now have a shared interest for the Syria peace talks to be at least a semblance of success. Barack Obama badly needs it in his election year, to show that his Syria policy wasn’t a complete disaster as it is now, but something that is being settled through diplomacy. For Vladimir Putin, the Syria peace talks provide a chance to boost Russia’s influence and prestige, securing its role as a key global player.
But even though both Moscow and Washington want the talks to progress, and they seem to agree on a general road map ahead, some other players have conflicting interests that will be extremely difficult to reconcile. It all boils down to one key question: who should represent the opposition in the talks.
Militant opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, which met in Riyadh in December, sharply opposed the inclusion of any other factions which ponder the possibility of a compromise with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Their rigid stance reflected the tough posture taken by their main backers, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which want Assad out and refuse to negotiate any compromise that could allow the Syrian ruler to hang on to power. Those groups include such Jihadi units as the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ahrar ash-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant), which Russia considers terrorists.
On the other hand, Russia has pushed strongly for inclusion of such figures as Syria’s former deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil, who speaks fluent Russian and took part in several round of talks hosted by Moscow. The Saudis and other Gulf monarchies have spoken strongly against inviting them to the Geneva talks, but in the end they apparently accepted a solution that would see both parties drop their objections and allow all those groups to be represented.