Russian special presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev said in an interview to RT and Rossiya-24 that the Russian delegation visited Damascus to discuss the issue of the future political transition with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The talks were focused on the government's vision of the further political settlement.
"We wanted to see whether Damascus is maintaining its commitment to the obligations it previously undertook. In particular, concerning the transition to a political settlement after the main military phase of the fight against terrorism is completed," Lavrentiev said.
Lavrentiev underlined the importance of the recent Assad's press statement, confirming Syria's commitment to political reforms, the preparation of a new constitution and the start of preparations for parliamentary and presidential elections, as set in the UN Security Council's Resolution 2254.
"It is vital that Bashar Assad is really willing to find ways to attain national reconciliation. We spoke in detail about the launch of the process for national dialogue between various parts of Syrian society," Lavrentiev said.
The statement was made amid the seventh round of the Astana-format talks on the Syrian settlement that kicked off in the Kazakh capital. The talks, in particular, will focus on creating a working group that will deal with hostage and prisoner release, the return of fallen soldiers bodies, and searches for those missing.
"We hope that these issues will be resolved during the seventh round of talks, at least in a particular part to promote confidence-building between the conflicting parties," Lavrentiev said.
The envoy added that the Russian delegation hoped to encourage Syrian opposition to hold a constructive dialogue with Damascus.
Earlier in the day, a well-informed source told Sputnik that the Congress of the Syrian people aiming to bring together a large number of representatives of the Syrian opposition and government forces would most likely take place in mid-November in Russia's Sochi.
"It is unclear where it would take place or when. We shall discuss this today and tomorrow with our colleagues from the guarantor states, but we believe nevertheless that this forum is an important milestone on the path towards the political reconciliation. We always said that the Syrian people should determine their future themselves, so if all representatives, respected people meet there and discuss what they should do and in which form further participation in political reforms is envisioned, then I think it will be very important," Lavrentiev said.
Assad's Removal From Power
Commenting on the precondition for holding Syrian settlement talks, the Russian presidential envoy has said that demanding Assad's resignation won't bring about results in the process.
"We strongly encourage the opposition to absolutely abando, as we believe, incorrect preconditions for joining the negotiation process. As you know, it is the the removal [of Assad] from his current post of president. This is absolutely unrealistic, and if we continue the negotiation process under such preconditions, of course, this will not lead to positive results.
According to Lavrentiev, the Syrian leadership and Assad have voiced interest in the political process moving forward. Assad understands the necessity of holding national political dialogue in order to find a way for national reconciliation, the Russian envoy added.
While the US and its regional and European allies have been calling for Assad's removal from power, Moscow has repeatedly stressed that it is up to the Syrian people to decide their leadership's future.
Assad himself has commented on the issue, saying that he is ready to step down if the Syrians decide so.
Guarantor States and De-escalation Zones
Lavrentiev also praised the decision to establish de-escalation zones as “very right,” adding that it was possible to “stabilize the situation on the ground to a great extent.”
“Of course there are some difficulties because of the provocations of various groups in the de-escalation zones, but we're trying to prevent such negative incidents as much as we can. Observation posts work really well … The situation is a bit more complicated in Idlib zone where our Turkish colleagues so far have not fully put observation points in place. The tension level is still pretty high there, and there is a danger of offensives from some groups that are present there. We hope that Turkey will carry out its obligations on Idlib zone,” he said.
Control over the de-escalation zone in Idlib is supposed to be carried out by the forces of all three guarantor states (Russia, Turkey and Iran), while in three other zones it is done only by Russian military police.
Lavrentiev has also commented on the possibility to include other actors as guarantors of the peace settlement.
"So far, this issue has not come up [on the other states participating as observers]. Several countries have expressed their willingness to take part in the Astana format as observers. But during the preparation for Astana-7 with guarantor states we decided to put this issue on hold, in order to work out criteria that any state should meet if it wants to enter the Astana process as an observer," Lavrentiev said in an interview to RT and Rossiya-24.
According to Russian special presidential envoy to Syria, the country will be fully liberated from Daesh in coming weeks.
"The Kurds control a significant part of the Syrian territory and made a significant contribution to the eradication of terrorist structures on the country’s territory, first and foremost Daesh… I think that the Syrian territory will be fully cleared of Daesh formations in coming weeks. The issue is arising on involving the Kurds more actively in the post-war restoration and political resolution," he said.
Lavrentiev has also named the demining issue as one of the key factors of the country's restoration, saying that almost every building in the recently liberated Deir ez-Zor, Mayadin and other areas is mined. He urged the international community to support Russia's efforts on the creation of conditions necessary for the locals to return to their peaceful lives.
The Syrian government and Russia consider the humanitarian demining a key issue at the ongoing Astana talks, while Turkey and the opposition see the release of detainees as a priority. The discussions are circulation around two draft documents on the Syrian settlement. The first one suggests establishing a Working Group comprising the representatives of the Syrian government, opposition, the UN and possibly the ICRC, which would work at the release of detainees and searches for missing persons.
The other draft document specifies the creation of the international coalition, involving the UN Mine Action Service and UNESCO to manage the humanitarian demining.
Russian Military Operation
Meanwhile, head of the State Duma Defense Committee Vladimir Shamanov has announced that the Russian military actions in the country have almost been completed.
"In general, the main tasks of the Russian military operation in Syria may be considered nearly fulfilled. We expect that the government forces will regain control over the eastern Syrian border by the end of the year and Daesh [outlawed in Russia] will cease its existence as an organized military body," Shamanov said at a meeting between the committees of the State Duma and the Mazhilis, the lower house of the Kazakh parliament.
Russian media has lately reported citing military sources in the country that Moscow was planning to reduce its military presence in Syria.