Out of the woodwork
Today yet another faction of Syria’s divided opposition met in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and pledged its support for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s plan to bring peace to Syria. But even as support consolidates behind the Annan plan, infighting has continued within the self-proclaimed opposition groups, dashing hopes of a united opposition. Moscow has responded by saying that it is focusing on the very basics – no foreign intervention – to end a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in the last year.
Today in Moscow a delegation for Syria’s self-proclaimed leftist opposition, the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, announced that it was ready to support the “Annan plan” to bring an end to the violence in Syria. In particular, the members of the opposition would support a “pluralistic democratic system” that acted “in the interests of all Syrians, regardless of ethnic and religious background.”
The statement could be a rallying point for the Syria’s fractured opposition, which has been meeting piecemeal with Lavrov in recent weeks to discuss ending the violence in the country. In principle, the different groups meeting in Moscow have agreed that the country should not face foreign intervention. Yet deep divisions and rivalries remain among Syria’s fractious opposition and accusations of fake opposition groups created by the government have made the situation even tenser. “The Popular Front is pro-regime,” said Syria-based National Coordinating Body for Change and Liberation (NCB) Spokesman Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir. “This is a group that appeared quite recently, and has not faithfully struggled with the regime for many years. They were allied with the regime.” Just a week ago, representatives of the NCB came to Moscow for their own meeting with Lavrov, where NCB head Hassan Abdul-Azim called “Annan’s plan” the “last chance” for a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
In an interview, Qadri Jamil, the leader of the Popular Front delegation in Moscow, said that his group was being unjustly vilified because it is the “only leftist opposition in the country.” Jamil argued that the animosity between the groups was political, and that eliminating disagreements was not as important as solving them. “There is no need to formally unite the Syrian opposition and I actually believe that it is dangerous to try,” he said. “However, we do need to learn to compromise.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has few illusions about creating a united opposition in Syria. “How much we can unite the opposition is not for me to judge,” said Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. He continued that the Russian government was using “all opportunities” to find a resolution, which would “engage the minds of the Syrians themselves, without foreign recipes from those who can influence the Syrian sides.”
For Russia, it is crucial to show that the talks are making progress. Despite twice rejecting UN resolutions on Syria due to what it called “a pro-rebel bias,” Russia has remained engaged as a mediator between the Syrian government and the opposition. Yet progress has been slow-going, mostly because Syria’s opposition divides into loyalists and revolutionaries, armed and unarmed, foreign and domestic.
“Annan’s plan,” which has gotten support from Russia along with prominent Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government, has been a major step. Yet this support seems to have consolidated around a plan that is on its last legs, as violence continues in Syria despite a ceasefire agreement. Fifty-four people were reported killed today in a blast in the city of Hama that government forces blamed on the explosion of a rebel bomb factory, and the opposition blamed on government shelling. So far, only 13 of the mandated 300 UN peacekeepers have been able to reach the country, making the ceasefire seem like even more of an afterthought at this point.
Jamil said that the failures of the plan were being exaggerated by Western sources, and that the decreasing levels of overall violence – despite the fact that the “Annan plan” called for a ceasefire – showed that the delegations were making progress. Yet al-Kheir, the NCB spokesman, said that his party had taken steps already to warn the Russian government against groups painting a rosy picture of the progress taking place in Syria. “I believe we’ve told them enough about the loyalty of the different groups and parties in Syria for them to understand the opposition in Moscow,” he said.
First published in Russia Profile