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    Russia is 'the Only State That Can Bring' Damascus to Speak With Syrian Rebels

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    Russia is uniquely positioned to resolve the Syrian crisis since Moscow is the only one who has managed to bring Damascus and the armed opposition to the negotiating table, Dr. Michel Foucher, who served as the French Ambassador to Latvia, told news magazine Le Point.

    Moscow's military engagement in Syria has "changed the balance of power on the ground forcing the non-radical Sunni opposition to negotiate," the French diplomat said. Above all, Russia is "the only one who is capable of forcing Damascus to engage in talks with the opposition."

    The Astana peace process sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran suggests that this assessment is correct. The first round of talks was held in the capital of Kazakhstan on January 23-24, marking the first time that a delegation from Damascus and representatives of armed radical groups fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad met since the war erupted in 2011. 

    The second round of Astana talks took place on February 15-16, with Moscow, Ankara and Tehran reaching a deal aimed at establishing a permanent contact group to maintain the ceasefire.

    The document, seen by Sputnik, stipulated that the monitoring group would also facilitate prisoner swaps at its regular meetings, report truce violations to the United Nations and brief the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on its progress.

    Russia's special presidential envoy on the Syria settlement Alexander Lavrentiev called the second round of talks "a step forward," saying that the tensions between Damascus and the opposition appear to be easing. Despite positive developments, direct talks between the two sides are "still far from being possible," he added, citing mutual distrust as one of the key reasons.

    Foucher also said that Russia is "the only one capable of finding a way out" of the devastating Syrian conflict because "it has military and political strength." He pointed to the fact that Turkish leadership no longer calls for Assad's immediate resignation as proof of Moscow's influence.

    Indeed, Russia and Turkey have served as guarantors of the ceasefire deal which was unveiled by President Vladimir Putin on December 29.

    Previously, Ankara was one of the key supporters of radical groups intent on deposing the Syrian government. This is something that Moscow has been fiercely opposed to. Russian officials have repeatedly warned that operations similar to NATO's military intervention in Libya lead to dire consequences.

    Foucher echoed these sentiments, saying that Russia has been set against a regime change scenario in Syria which would see the country follow Libya's fate. He also explained that Moscow decided to launch a military operation in Syria out of concerns that the war-torn Arab country could turn into a breeding ground for terrorism.

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    Tags:
    Syrian crisis, Syrian peace talks, Russian aerial campaign, Syrian conflict, Astana talks on Syria, Turkey, Syria, Russia
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