A conference on the future of Syria ended two days ago in Russia (30 January) with a statement ignoring the key opposition demands, including calls for democratic elections. The participants also agreed to re-write the country’s constitution, which the opposition claims will be catering to President Bashar al-Assad and his interests.
While the final statement said that the future of Syria should be decided in elections, it did not say whether Syrian refugees would be allowed to take part. The conference concluded that the Syrians had the right to choose their political system free of foreign intervention and urged to preserve security forces without the need for their reform, which was one of the demands put forward by the opposition. “This conference is tailor-made for Assad and his terrorist regime,” said Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group that operates in northern Syria and added that “the Sochi statement does not concern us and is not even a subject of discussion.”
The Black Sea resort of Sochi became the venue for what the Russians called a Syrian Congress of National Dialogue after it had decided to organize such an event at October talks in Astana. After helping turn the tide in the Syrian civil war, the Kremlin has positioned itself as a Middle East peace broker. The event was, however, boycotted by many international players such as the United States, Britain and France who stayed away because of what they said was the Syrian government’s reluctance to engage. Instead, the West supports a separate UN-led peace process, which has so far achieved very little. The last round took place in Vienna only a week ago.