Brahimi arrives in Moscow for talks with Lavrov to resolve the Syrian crisis

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Moscow on Monday for his one-day trip. Source: EPA

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Moscow on Monday for his one-day trip. Source: EPA

In this backdrop, the question naturally arises whether Brahimi, one of the UN’s most experienced trouble-shooters, will be able to achieve a breakthrough in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Moscow on Monday for his one-day trip to discuss with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the crucial steps he plans to take in order to resolve the 20-month Syrian crisis. His visit assumes importance in view of the tragic terrorist attack in Damascus following his announcement of the four-day ceasefire between the Syrian Government troops and rebels, coming into effect last Friday to mark the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday.

Many people were killed in the terrorist car-bomb attack on Friday near a mosque in southern Damascus, suggesting a shaky start to the temporary truce proposed by Brahimi who had expressed hope that it would clear the way for a political resolution to the ongoing Syrian conflict. In a further development, the UN Security Council rejected a Russian initiative to condemn the tragic car-bomb explosion, on the ground of lack of consensus. Statements in the Council are issued on the basis of consensus and “one” of the 15-member states said that due to the lack of information from Damascus on the scale of violence during the ceasefire it would be inappropriate to make a statement on this single issue.

On the eve of Brahimi’s visit, Russia voiced the hope that the visit by the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria on October 29 will promote the Syrian conflict settlement.

 “We are waiting for him in Moscow early next week. We hope that the Moscow talks will make it possible for Russia to make another contribution to the settlement of the Syrian crisis,” Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said at the UN in New York on Wednesday.

Churkin also stressed Russia “resolutely supports” Brahimi’s efforts aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict which has claimed 20,000 to 30,000 lives, according to an UN estimate.

On October 24, the Security Council in a statement, which was based on a draft presented by the Russian delegation, urged all the Syrian conflicting parties to accept Brahimi’s plan and agree to a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday on October 26-29.

The statement said the truce must be used to offer help to the Syrians and called on the Syrian authorities to grant humanitarian organizations free access to the population.  Brahimi said he hoped to use the lull in fighting to "discuss a longer and more effective ceasefire." Russia also welcomed the Syrian government's consent to observe a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha as proposed by Brahimi.

“The fact that Damascus confirmed its readiness to work towards stopping the bloodshed, paving the way for a political solution to the internal Syrian crisis through a comprehensive dialogue, is of paramount significance,” the official spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement in Moscow on Thursday, commenting on a possible ceasefire in Syria.

Russia reiterated its hope that Brahimi will be able to add a practical dimension to the Geneva Communique’s principles.

“The opposition in Syria is disunited. In Geneva, our Western colleagues promised to consolidate the opposition on the basis of readiness for dialogue, but this was not done,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said before the Brahimi’s visit to Moscow.

“Inability of those, both in the West and in the region, who have influence on the opposition to bring it together under single command in order to understand whom to talk to is one of the main reasons for what we can see now, specifically the continuing bloodshed in Syria,” he said.

“Banal as it may seem, the Geneva Communique is based on a simple consensus that has no alternative: stop the violence, begin negotiations, and agree what the communique calls ‘a transitional governing body,’ the composition of which should be approved by consensus between the government and the opposition. This body will draft a constitution and prepare elections and it will have the full executive power until then,” he said, recalling that “Damascus supported the Geneva Communique.”

In this backdrop, the question naturally arises whether Brahimi, one of the UN’s most experienced trouble-shooters, will be able to achieve a breakthrough in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis where his predecessor former UN Secretary-General and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan miserably failed and was compelled to step down in August.

The previous ceasefire, brokered as part of a Syrian peace plan by Annan on April 12, was violated on a near-daily basis. His six-point plan for Syria included the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from urban areas, and an open-ended ceasefire that was meant to take effect on April 12 and lead to peace talks. But neither side fully adhered to the plan and the short-lived truce was followed by a dramatic escalation in the conflict.

Brahimi (78), a former Algerian Foreign Minister and seasoned diplomat has travelled across the Middle East over the past two weeks to promote his plan to use a ceasefire to kickstart a political process. His main difficulties  is that only some of the rebel groups are on board and there are so many different rebel groups in Syria that it may almost not be possible for him to win unanimous agreement from them to join the political process towards a lasting solution to the conflict.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition, had already said that there was little hope that the ceasefire would take hold.

The West and some Arab countries have also been pressing for Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s ouster while Russia and China are trying to prevent outside interference in Syria, saying that the Assad regime and the opposition are both to blame for the bloodshed. Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked UN Security Council sanctions against Syria’s embattled regime over what it says is a pro-rebel bias.

Earlier this week, Lavrov accused the Western countries of their open interest in fuelling violence in Syria as part of a “geopolitical remapping” of the Middle East.

“It appears that every time the hope for progress in the Syrian situation arises, somebody attempts to prevent it from calming down and deliberately fuels the continuation of the bloodshed and civil war in Syria,” Lavrov said in an interview to Russian daily newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Monday.

Lavrov reiterated that foreign “recipes” would never provide a long-lasting and reliable solution to the Syrian conflict, and expressed the hope that Brahimi’s visit to Moscow would help outline steps toward dialogue between warring parties in Syria.

As for Brahimi’s success in his latest mission, the veteran Algerian diplomat has no illusions about his toughest mission yet in Syria. “I am coming into this job with my eyes open, and no illusions,” he had said in his remark in New York at the start of his new assignment in Syria.

Recently in Beirut as part of region-wide consultations, Brahimi made it clear that persistence with military force in Syria would be counterproductive. He also stressed that all influential countries must halt arms shipments to Syria in order to prevent the conflict from spreading in the region.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have emerged as the main supporters of Syria’s armed opposition. “Those countries need to realise that it is not possible that this crisis will stay inside Syrian border forever,” Brahimi said warning Either it has to be taken care of or it will spread and spill over and consume everything.”

Russia, which strongly opposes “regime change” in Syria, has called for international pressure to restrain the armed opposition. Russian Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov told reporters on Wednesday he had “reliable” information that anti-government forces in Syria are in possession of portable surface-to-air missiles, including Stingers. Markov was referring to US media reports that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had obtained nearly two dozen shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, which were delivered to the rebels via Turkey. The US has denied supplying Stingers to the Syrian rebels.

Commenting on Makarov’s statement and Washington’s reaction to it, the official spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukasevich said the US does not supply Assad’s opponents with man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) but provides coordination and logistics support to such supplies.

“True, the US does not supply MANPADS to militants in Syria,” Lukashevich said, adding, “At the same time, it is also well known that Washington is in the know of supplies of various types of armaments to illegal armed formations operating in Syria.”

“Moreover, the United States, judging by the acknowledgements of American officials published by US media, provides coordination and logistics support to such deliveries,” he said.

Dadan Upadhyay is an Indian journalist based in Moscow.

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