Remarks by Russian officials following the Astana-16 meeting revealed that Russia continues to insist that Bashar al-Assad remains in power and that political settlement should be a topic separate from the reconstruction.
In fact, while the West maintains its position of refusing to finance reconstruction before a UN-sponsored political settlement, Russia insists on separating the two issues. Moreover, efforts by Russia to deal with reconstruction in a separate manner were clearly shown as it wants Assad to remain part of the political settlement. “One of the important issues is the implementation of political transformations (reform and restructuring), especially since Assad won the presidential election and gained a new mandate,” Alexander Lavrentiev claimed. While stating the latest updates, Lavrentiev speculates that “now there is a good opportunity to proceed in this political settlement process.”
Speaking about the reasons why the UN-sponsored Constitutional Committee’s work has stalled, he said that “the main obstacle to launching a good dialogue is that the opposition still sees the Syrian authorities and the central government in Damascus as an enemy.” He added that “this view is totally unacceptable.”
Unable to ignore how the regime views any opposition as “terrorism”, he explained, “all attempts to reach compromises will not bear fruits as long as the opposition continues to view the government as an enemy, and the government sees the opposition as terrorists.” Lavrentiev returned and blamed the opposition, and he revealed clearly once again that the settlement sought by Russia does not include political transition. He stated: “So far all our conversations with the Syrian opposition have shown that they stand firm in the need to change the regime.” Lavrenetiev did not call on the regime to stop treating the opposition as terrorists and foreign agents.