Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—A Syrian opposition delegation began a visit to Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian officials, one week ahead of the second round of talks on the Syrian crisis in Geneva.
Syrian National Coalition spokesman, Mundhir Abqaiq, said the delegation will be led by Ahmed Al-Jarba, the Coalition’s president. He will be joined by the Coalition’s secretary-general, Badr Jamous, as well as opposition figures Burhan Ghalioun and Michel Kilo and the head of the opposition’s delegation to Geneva II, Hadi Al-Bahra.
The delegation is expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov.
Senior Coalition member Abdulahad Astepho told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meetings will focus on the question of the transitional governing body, which will stipulate the departure of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
“The delegation will call on the Russian leadership to pressure the Syrian regime to seriously commit to the Geneva II agenda, and will also highlight humanitarian issues such as halting the siege on towns and opening humanitarian routes,” he said.
Astepho said he hoped a breakthrough would be reached on the Russian position during the talks, adding that “Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening speech at Geneva II was positive.”
The Syrian opposition wants to secure a commitment from Russia to implement the communiqué issued at the conclusion of the the Geneva I conference held in 2012, which stipulate the formation of a transitional governing body composed of figures acceptable to both sides. The opposition says this means that Assad and his close associates must step down, while the Syrian government maintains that the future government of Syria must be decided through elections, despite the conflict currently raging in the country.
Meanwhile, media sources quoted former Russian diplomat Vyacheslav Matuzov as saying it was “important for the Syrian opposition to understand the nature of Russian fears regarding the crisis that has been going on in Syria for three years.” He also said the Syrian opposition had “finally seen the importance of the Russian role in resolving the crisis.”
Speaking to the press on the eve of the conference in Geneva on January 23, Jarba said Lavrov had told him in Paris shortly before that the issue of Assad remaining in power was a decision for the Syrian people.
Matuzov, however, dismissed the possibility of the Coalition achieving peace in Syria, saying it did not have the authority to stop the violence.
Despite the Coalition being recognized as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people” by a number of countries, including the US, it has little influence over the various rebel groups fighting to bring down Assad’s government.
The Syrian regime and opposition last Friday ended 10 days of talks in Switzerland without achieving any tangible results. The talks started with a conference called by the UN in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22, in which some 40 countries participated, including the US and Russia.