The official announcements about the results of the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan that lasted an hour and a half were quite reserved. However, their attitude towards each other in the midst of the new turn of the diplomatic standoff over Syria rather demonstrates that both Moscow and Annan are still trying to work out the details of the new version of the peace plan, some of which were discussed during Kofi Annan's current trip to Moscow. The key issue of the new plan is to give the UN mission the functions of a peace broker.
Prior to his trip to Russia, Kofi Annan met with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad as well as with the Iranian leadership which, as Damascus's closest ally, is fully involved in the situation in Syria. There was no breakthrough since it is possible only in negotiations between the parties to the conflict.
On the other hand, Moscow has conducted negotiations with the main representatives of the Syrian opposition. Despite the fact that the sides just confirmed their positions that are opposing towards al-Assad’s resignation and the external interference in Syria’s internal affairs, the dialogue with that influential party to the Syrian conflict was opened.
After his talks with Putin, in his interview to the press Kofi Annan limited himself to stating his firm belief that a compromise on the peace process in Syria would be reached among the members of the UN Security Council. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also expressed his support of the compromise solution. “We came to a difficult compromise in Geneva, at the conference that Kofi Annan organized on June 30. I see no reason to fail to come to a similar agreement in the Security Council,” said the foreign minister after the negotiations in the Kremlin.
Judging by the tone of the statements made during the briefing, Moscow and Kofi Annan have not only reached a complete understanding, but also have a strong wish to work together. “I hope that the Security Council will send a clear signal that what is going on in Syria now is absolutely unacceptable, that violence must stop,” stated the UN peace envoy, stressing that in order to reach that goal “we will put on joint pressure.”
It is nevertheless clear that the Kofi Annan plan has not brought the desired results; the conflict in Syria is turning into a civil war with a clear division of the opposing sides in accordance with their religious standpoints.
Thus, the problem that the UN Security Council members face is to extend the observers' mandate for an additional three months as Russia suggests, or 45 days as suggested by the UK and the US. The goal is to reach a ceasefire, because without it no political dialogue between the conflicting sides sought by Moscow and Kofi Annan is possible.
After the meeting in the Kremlin that took place yesterday, Moscow amended its proposal for the UN Security Council resolution that is scheduled to be voted on before the end of this week, i.e. prior to the expiration of the current observers' mandate.
“There are a number of elements in it that deal with the humanitarian situation, the state of human rights and the mechanism of local ceasefire,” Alexander Pankin, First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, informed journalists. The Russian diplomat stated that the initiative of a gradual ceasefire was “discussed by Kofi Annan with the Syrian leadership in Damascus. That idea appears to be quite effective, that is why we supported it.”
However, that idea is described in more detail in a statement made by the press-service of the Russian president that was issued prior to the talks with Kofi Annan. “Given all the above, we do not exclude the extension of the political aspect of the tasks that the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) faces within the framework of which we consider it necessary to charge the UN observers with the task of coordinating with the opposing sides in Syria a concrete plan of a synchronized ceasefire and a simultaneous withdrawal of the government’s forces and combat troops in each city and settlement where an armed standoff is taking place.”
It means that Russia is suggesting that the UN Mission in Syria be charged with not only information, but also with political, or intermediary functions, i.e. the right to conduct negotiations with the conflicting parties on the issues of ceasefire. It is in essence a new aspect, which can present a new chance for a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.
Moscow is unlikely to submit a new resolution to the UN with a proposal that Kofi Annan would be opposed to. It appears to be the main result of his meeting with Putin that took place on Tuesday.
However, the diplomatic battle over Syria continues. On Wednesday the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan who largely determines the position of the Free Syrian Army, the main warring party in the standoff between the opposition and the Syrian regime, is scheduled to visit Moscow.
Also before the end of this week a new resolution of the UN Security Council is to be released. It is expected to offer an alternative to an armed involvement in the Syrian conflict, which is lobbied by the opponents of al-Assad.