12 February 2018. PenzaNews. The Congress of the Syrian national dialogue, which was held in Sochi on the initiative of Russia on January 29–30, became one of the most important events in the peaceful settlement of the protracted political crisis.
More than 1,500 people took part in the forum, representing all political, ethnic, and confessional segments of Syrian society.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the congress gathered official Syrian representatives, such as MPs and members of the ruling party, as well as representatives of the internal and external Syrian opposition, and tribes, which play a major role in the Syrian society.
In terms of ethnic makeup, the Arabs formed the majority of the delegates; however the Kurds, the Yezidis, the Assyrians, the Armenians, the Circassians, the Chechens, the Dagestanis, the Abkhazians, the Turkomans and the Druze also participated in the congress.
Iran and Turkey were the co-organizers of the Sochi meeting together with Russia, as guarantors of the Astana ceasefire agreements in Syria.
As a result of the talks, the delegates signed a final statement, as well as a declaration that sets out the main principles of Syria revival based on the absence of any foreign interference. Furthermore, the delegates approved a list of candidates for the expert group on the development of changes to the new basic Syrian law and a Constitutional Committee, which will be based in Geneva. One third of it will be represented by opposition.
The Sochi forum was recognized as productive not only by its immediate delegates, who actively voiced their proposals and initiatives. Thus, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the event was very intense, but “not a chaos,” although many of the Syrians “for the first time had the opportunity to express their opinion.”
In addition, he noted the important role of the Russian Federation in reconciliation of the parties.
“Russia put a lot of effort to ensure that the attempts of political settlement turn into real actions. Russia actively supports the Geneva process. Russia does a good job and can do even more: it can help the Syrian government, on which, by the way, it has a great influence, to realize that they need efforts and talks for the political process. And Russia does this,” Staffan de Mistura said.
In turn, Vladimir Putin's Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev stressed that Moscow is not trying to seize the initiative from Geneva, but only seeks to “give an impetus to the talks” on the Swiss platform under the auspices of the United Nations.
However, according to a number of foreign analysts, only one round of debates in Russia gave more results than a whole series of meetings in Geneva, which started more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, Western media predictably subjected the Congress in Sochi to sharp and bitter critics, citing the fact that a number of representatives of the Syrian opposition boycotted the talks. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not share this position.
“Of course, nobody expected that delegates from absolutely all the Syrian groups, both those that are loyal to the Government and neutral or independent opposition groups, would come to Sochi. There is nothing tragic about two or three groups refusing to attend,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained.
Analyzing the new format of cooperation for Syria proposed by Russia, Pal Steigan, Norwegian politician, publisher, writer, independent entrepreneur in the field of culture and information technology, called the meeting in Sochi promising.
“The congress might open the road towards a peaceful settlement. It seems that the Russian side had done a great lot of work to broaden the base for peaceful unification. But the problem is of course that the US is sabotaging any attempt on peace settlement. The US-SDF attack in Eastern Syria shows that USA has nor given up carving out a sort of Bantustan or US protectorate there,” the politician told PenzaNews.
According to him, the victories and advances over the last year are building and strengthening the Syrian case, but “the imperialist powers” are still true to their idea to control Syria.
“To that end they work more or less openly with terrorists, and probably the terrorists are set to deliver the Western alliance the ‘casus belli’ they opt for, probably in the form of another chemical false flag attack,” Pal Steigan suggested.
In his opinion, the US, Israel and Saudi-Arabia are dissatisfied with the situation where Syria is liberating more and more of the country, “so they might unleash another war.”
“If it were up to Syria alone this situation could have been resolved rather quickly laying the basis for a liberated and unified Syria where all political forces who want peace could find a solution. Alas the war-mongering Western powers and their allies have not given up. I must also add that my own country, Norway, still has illegal forces in Syria fighting with the US and their terrorist allies – a fact I regret and condemn,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kamal Sido, Head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), expressed the idea that the congress could become more effective if it did not coincide with the Turkish military operation in the north of the republic.
“Russia should not have agreed to hold this congress during the Ankara operation in Afrin. The country’s ethnic minorities are offended because Moscow allowed Turkey to commit these attacks. Tens of thousands of people were forced to leave the region, there are dead among civilians,” the analyst said.
At the same time, he stressed that the Syrians are eager for self-determination and are ready for dialogue and search for compromises for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
“The people of Syria want peace in their country and a political solution to the problem; they themselves seek to determine their own destiny. However, interference from countries such as Turkey hinders this goal. It is necessary to significantly reduce the influence of Turkey and Iran in Syria – then Russia and the United States together with representatives of the Syrian people will be able to find a political solution to this issue,” Kamal Sido explained.
Commenting on the likelihood of constitutional changes, he noted that he supports the idea of a federative structure of the country.
“I think that Russia’s first proposal for a constitution of Syria was better. It was about the adoption of a new main document of the country that would make Syria a federal state,” the expert said.
In turn, Fernand Kartheiser, Luxembourg Parliament member for the Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), said that international community should welcome all efforts that could contribute to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria.
“The proliferation of simultaneous conflicts of different nature and sometimes unclear objectives in Syria as well as the heterogeneity and high number of involved actors lead, quite logically, to a variety of peace initiatives,” the politician said.
According to him, the situation is even further complicated by the fact that the Western countries don't seem to have a clear agenda as far as the future of Syria is concerned.
“The doctrine of ‘regime change,’ that has led to chaos in many countries, has been openly questioned by the Trump Administration. Some of the movements that the West supports don't seem more respectable or more trustworthy than the current Syrian Government,” Fernand Kartheiser explained.
In his opinion, good relations between Moscow and Washington can play a significant role in the settlement of the situation.
“It should be the responsibility of the big powers, the US and Russia, to try to keep all these peace initiatives and dialogues coordinated and to bring them, as far and as quickly as possible, where they belong and that means under the authority of the United Nations. This shows that the Syria situation only highlights the urgent need to come back to normality in the relations between the West and Russia,” Luxembourg Parliament member said.
“This urgency is further underlined by the fact that a number of the conflicts in Syria have a dangerous potential to spread, such as the most recent intervention of Turkey. It would also strengthen the authority of international public law to solve the conflicts in the framework of the UN. For the time being, many actors in the Syrian conflicts operate, at best, on the basis of very weak and shaky legal arguments,” he added.
Meanwhile, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings University and author of several publications for the National Interest magazine, shared the opinion that the country needs to create autonomies.
“The only realistic compromise is some sort of temporary, practical autonomy for some sectors of Syria, until Assad is gone at least, with Assad being replaced partly by people of his own choosing – since he has, in effect, won the war in most parts of the country, and Russia is backing him, too,” the analyst said.
However, in his opinion, the talks in Sochi cannot be considered particularly significant.
“The opposition didn't take them seriously, seeing them as too pro-Assad,” Michael O’Hanlon added.
In turn, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, former chief negotiator with Syria between 1993 and 1996, professor emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, distinguished global professor at New York University, foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, shared a similar opinion.
“The Sochi conference was boycotted by several parties and the proceedings failed to move the crisis towards resolution. This is hardly surprising. Bashar Asad feels empowered and is not ready to make any significant concessions and the opposition is understandably not willing to capitulate by accepting cosmetic changes,” the former politician said.
He also stressed that Bashar Asad's two external patrons have divergent views of the political process.
“Russia believes correctly that without real political changes there will be no stable resolution of the crisis. Iran supports Asad in his opposition to any such changes,” Itamar Rabinovich noted.
“At this point there is no indication that Russia is ready to distance itself from Iran or to convert their different perspective into a real disagreement. And so whether it is Sochi, Astana or Geneva, the prospect of political progress let alone resolution is dim,” the expert added.
In turn, Orkhan Gafarli, expert at Ankara Policy Center, reminded that the Turkish side considers the congress of the Syrian National Dialogue held in Sochi to be fruitful.
“All the participants were able to agree on the issue of reforming the constitution of Syria. Meanwhile, the earlier military operation of Turkey in Afrin, as well as the operation of Damascus and Russia in the Idlib region show that the parties could find a common language and continue the dialogue,” the expert said.
In his opinion, the most important is the correspondence of the forum that ended in Russia to the principles of negotiations in Geneva.
“The main task is that the dialogues in Sochi and Astana were ‘under the umbrella’ of the Geneva process, which is the only international mechanism for the settlement of the conflict in Syria under the auspices of the United Nations. I think that Russia and Turkey reached full agreement on this. However, Iran and Syria have a different opinion. After all, the Geneva process does not provide for a political solution that would leave Bashar Assad in power, but presupposes the existence of a certain period of reform and the creation of a ‘new’ state, after which he must leave – this worries Tehran and Damascus,” the analyst explained.
He also expressed confidence that the Sochi Congress was a successful step on the way to resolving the Syrian crisis.
“There were positive signals that trilateral cooperation will continue: Russia, Turkey and Iran demonstrated their desire to resolve the conflict,” Orkhan Gafarli concluded.