Syria’s National Dialogue Congress in Sochi convened on Tuesday, after news circulated about possibilities of cancelling the talks, following a few hours of delay due to disputes between UN Special envoy Staffan de Mistura on one side and Russia and Turkey on the other.
The disputes took place over sub-committees which should be emerged from the talks in Sochi.
Initial reports revealed that the UN envoy and the Turkish delegation have withdrawn from the talks. “The Turkish delegation withdrew in protest against the bad treatment that the Syrian armed factions’ delegation had received at the Sochi Airport on Tuesday morning,” said Al-Arabiya correspondent in Moscow.
Sochi’s anticipated outcomes
The Kremlin’s special envoy on the Syria peace process Alexander Lavrentiev revealed in press remarks on Monday that the main anticipated outcome from the Sochi congress is to form a presidential council that will be in charge of drafting a new constitution for Syria.
De Mistura is expected to head the committee which will draft Syria’s constitution under the auspices of the United Nations, although he has not achieved any progress in the Syrian file via Geneva or Vienna talks.
Sochi witnesses limited participation
“An Egyptian delegation is taking part in the Sochi congress upon an official invitation from Moscow,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told Egypt Today on Tuesday.
Armed factions in northern Syria received political and logistic assurances from Russia, so they sent a delegation to represent them in the Sochi talks. “The armed factions’ delegation had a promise from Moscow to put the so-called revolution’s flag next to the official national flag of Syria at the airport, but the armed opposition delegation only found the national flag, which embraces only two stars,” Al-Arabiya corresponded added, illustrating the reason behind the armed opposition delegation withdrawal.
Moscow Platform and Cairo Platform arrived in Sochi to take part in the talks, which should have launched on Monday.
Russia has invited 1,600 people to the talks in Sochi reports, aiming at hammering out a path to a political solution, ending the civil war in Syria which erupted seven years ago.
The Kremlin’s special envoy on the Syria peace process Lavrentiev confirmed to Russian news agencies that 1,500 out of 1,600 guests invited to the congress would attend the talks, including Kurds and Syrian opposition representatives.
The Sochi Congress should have taken place in November 2017 but the exerted efforts collapsed following a lack of agreement among co-sponsors; Russia, Turkey and Iran.
The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), which is the main opposition group, announced last Thursday in a statement that it would not take part in the Sochi Congress. The statement accused President Bashar al-Assad and Russia of lacking the honest intention to give up relying on military might, which caused the death of more than 340,000 Syrian citizens throughout the seven-year-old civil war across the country.
The U.S. and France announced on Monday that they boycott the Sochi talks as observers, stressing that “Our collective focus must remain on the UN-led political process in Geneva and we will remain engaged with the UN and other parties, including Russia, to encourage all possible efforts, advancing the political track.”
Syria’s Kurdish groups also boycott the congress in the Black Sea resort, protesting against the Turkish military operation in Afrin region.
Under the motto of “Peace to the People of Syria,” the Sochi Congress is expected to take place, despite the absence of Syrian prominent opposition parties.
Moscow is considered the main supporter of Assad’s regime. In September, 2015, Russia’s first major military operation abroad since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 was launched in Syria.
In December 2017, President Vladimir Putin announced the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.