Russia has launched an initiative to extend the Syrian peace talks to include the PKK-related Kurdish organisation PYD, which Moscow would like to tear out of the USA’s sphere of influence. Turkey in particular, but also the Syrian opposition reject this move. The danger of Syria splitting up is increasing.
At a conference in Sochi on 19 October, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that a „Congress of Syrian People“ could be organised as a national dialogue and settlement of the Syrian crisis, once the de-escalation zones had been agreed and fully implemented. In an interview with the Russian media on 30 October, Aleksander Lavrentyev, the Russian special envoy to Syria, also emphasised his willingness to accompany such an initiative.
Following the seventh Syrian peace talks summit in Astana on 30 October, Moscow announced that it would organise a „Congress on National Syrian Dialogue“ in the southern Russian city of Sochi in the northern Caucasus on 18 November.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a list of 33 political organizations in Syria, which are invited to this conference.
The published list contains opposing groups. Among others, the Arabic-Socialist Baath Party, which rules the country, the High Negotiating Committee of the Syrian opposition, the People’s Front for Change and Freedom and Kurdish movements. It is controversial that Russia also wants to invite the political arm of the PKK-affiliated YPG militia, also known as the PYD. The PKK and its Syrian offshoot PYD/YPG are classified by Turkey, the EU and the USA as terrorist organisations.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the Turkish president’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin described Russia’s invitation to the PYD/YPG to the congress as „unacceptable“ and said that the Turkish government considers this invitation to be „an unreasonable one“.
As the name suggests, the congress is supposed to bring the different people of Syria together. Opposition forces fear that the conference is the first step towards the division of Syria. Political analysts believe that this is the way to pave the way for Syria’s federalization.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that the congress was aimed at widening the circle of political participants in the settlement of the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian regime has declared that it will participate in the negotiations. Syrian Foreign Minister Bashar al-Dschafari said at a press conference in the Kazakh capital Astana:
„We believe that now is the right time to hold such a congress. And we’re ready to participate in this congress.“
According to media reports, Damascus itself rejects federalization, however, as proposed by Russia. Moscow’s calculation is to rip the Kurds out of the orbit of the US in northern Syria by making concessions to the PYD/YPG. Putin did not rule out the possibility of a new constitution being prepared. Damascus, on the other hand, is prepared to grant autonomy to the Kurds only in Kurdish areas. Arab territories, however, such as the city of Raqqa or the oil-rich areas of the eastern Deir ez-Zor province, are to be transferred to the Syrian army.
Opposition’s rejection of the conference
The conference initiative in Sochi is widely opposed by opposition members. Muhammad Alloush, the chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee, criticized the conference and said:
„There will be a dialogue from regime to regime.“
The High Negotiating Committee and the National Coalition of the Syrian opposition and revolutionary forces, which is on the invitation list, described the conference as a step by Russia to circumvent the Geneva talks. The Syrian Islamic Council rejected the conference and called on other political groups to reject participation, as the Sochi conference would legitimise the Assad regime.
The following political organizations were invited:
Popular Front for Change and Liberation
National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change
The People’s Party
National Syrian Youth Party for Justice and Development
Party of Solidarity
National Congress Party
National Congress Party for a Secular Syria (subgroup)
Alternative Movement for Syria
Kamh (wheat) movement
PYD / Reed (subgroup)
PYD / Ayn al-Arab – Kobane (subgroup)
Syrian Unity Party
Yes – Movement for a free and democratic Syria
Syrian State Building Party
Syrian Democratic People’s Party
Syrian Home Party
Ba‘ th Arabic Socialist Party
Coalition for Peace
Organizations that rejected the invitation:
Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee
Party of the Southern Front
Syrian National Congress
National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SMDK)
The Kurdish National Council (under SDMK)
The article was written in cooperation with the Turkish analysis portal on Syria, Suriye Gündemi.