Legitimizing al-Assad’s government can improve the situation in the areas controlled by the government and send a positive signal to other Syrian regions that are tired of war. The positions of Russia and the United States are different, but as is known from successfully overcoming the acute chemical weapons crisis, contradictions are still manageable.
The chances of an international conference on Syria ending with positive results are slim.
The supporters of the incumbent Syrian president are convinced that the civil war can be brought to an end only in the event of a military victory on the battlefield. They believe that holding talks at a time when most of the external opposition are acting at the behest of the West holds no promise for them. Bashar al-Assad believes that the worst is over, and the recent transition of military initiative to his supporters only serves to strengthen Damascus’ confidence in the correctness of its hard-line policies. The Syrian President also believes that, faced with the biased and intransigent position of the West regarding the events in Ukraine, Russia is finally seeing things as they are and no longer considers Western countries its partners. The Syrians hope that this can dramatically increase the amount of assistance, including military help, provided to the Syrian government.
In turn, the die-hard opposition is fully aware of this mindset on the part of the Assad supporters, and is leaning towards continuing military confrontation relying on Western support. Their preliminary conditions for the Geneva III talks are fairly demanding and thus unacceptable to Damascus. Clearly, the opposition is unlikely to soften their policies any time soon.
The chances of mobilizing the international community to support the negotiations were small even at the outset, and are even smaller now. The failed Geneva II talks are not the only reason for that. The rift in the perspectives of Russia and the West caused by the events in and around Ukraine is extremely dangerous and fraught with far-reaching consequences. NATO military exercises and talks about a potential additional stationing of its troops along the Russian borders could lead to a tough, perhaps even forceful, response from Russia. Our country will not wish once again to go through the tragic events of the initial period of the Second World War, when Hitler's troops came close to the borders of the Soviet Union and made an unprovoked surprise attack using their advanced areas of deployment of striking forces.
In these circumstances, Moscow may need a variety of allies in its opposition to the West.
Despite the objective difficulties involved in organizing presidential elections during wartime, they should be held no matter what. Otherwise, the legitimacy of the incumbent president will become questionable. In turn, this may lead to an increase in armed clashes and more casualties.
It is also important to understand two things regarding Geneva III talks. First, unlike during earlier phases of the Geneva talks, Russia now holds to a more moderate position. With the current stance of the West and the intransigent opposition, the chances of success are slim. Therefore, many experts recommend not to be involved too much in a project that is bound to fail.
Second, compared with the period of convocation of the Geneva talks, our approach to selecting participants in the negotiating process has changed. Initially, the focus was on inviting the largest and the most influential opposition groups. They turned out to be those very same uncompromising elements. Despite its seemingly straight logic, this tactic has failed to bring about any practical results so far. Today, the focus has shifted. Mainly those forces that are willing to maintain a dialogue and do not come up with clearly unacceptable preliminary conditions are being invited to take part in the peace process.
Putting forward al-Assad’s candidacy will consolidate his supporters. However, this step makes convening a conference with a wide range of participants from among the opposition leaders even more problematic. Of course, a lot of provocations will be timed to coincide with the elections, but the bad part is that Syria is already torn by a civil war, and provocations, including around chemical weapons, have become fairly commonplace. Legitimizing al-Assad’s government can improve the situation in the areas controlled by the government and send a positive signal to other Syrian regions that are tired of war. The positions of Russia and the United States are different, but as is known from successfully overcoming the acute chemical weapons crisis, contradictions are still manageable.
With all the above factors taken into account, it becomes clear that we still have a long way to go before the situation in Syria can be turned around and a transition to a political and diplomatic settlement of the Syrian crisis can take place. The way there will be lined with many obstacles and difficulties.