Syrian 'opposition' will head to Moscow

Syrian 'opposition' will head to Moscow
Analysis: Russian reports that opposition figures have been invited to Moscow, in what may be a mere PR exercise, appear to have been confirmed by activists.
3 min read
05 November, 2015
Russia wants to meet opposition figures, but questions remain over which representatives are invited [Getty]
The Kremlin has invited a Syrian opposition group to visit Moscow to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, sources have told al-Araby al-Jadeed’s Arabic service.

Russian officials will meet with the National Coordination for Democratic Change [NCC] to discuss the developing crisis in Syria and the results of last week's Vienna talks.

The US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey spearheaded the talks - which were widely criticised for not including Syrians.

"The general coordinator of the body received an invitation to visit Moscow on Wednesday by the Russian ambassador in Damascus," said an NCC official. A delegation from the group's leadership will meet a number of Russian foreign ministry officials, he added.

The full list of 38 Syrian invitees was published in Russian daily Kommersant earlier this week.

The Free Syrian Army has dismissed the NCC as an extension of the government, stating that "this opposition is just the other face of the same coin".
     The Free Syrian Army has dismissed the NCC as an extension of the government

Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, said on Tuesday that Moscow would invite "a broad spectrum of opposition forces". 

"We do not know if our presence in Moscow will coincide with other Syrian parties - whether regime or opposition," the NCC source said. He did stress, however, that NCC officials will meet only with Russian officials, not other opposition groups.

A remedy to Vienna?

"The NCC has been angry about the lack of Syrians in the Vienna meetings on settling the crisis in Syria because it will not serve the desired political solution," he said, reflecting comments made by other Syrian opposition figures.

Despite the EU declaring that "for the first time all key players are at the table", the Vienna meetings reportedly included just one Syrian.

"The most important achievement in Vienna today is that they will meet two weeks later to decide where to hold the third meeting...." mocked one Syrian activist, Abdurahman Harkoush.

Borgdanov has reportedly been in contact with a wide range of Syrian opposition figures, including Ali Haider, and Manaf Tlass - the controversial former defence minister who defected during the uprising.

These figures, who appear to hold little credibility with Syrian opposition inside the country, were notably absent from the list of invitees.

The guestlist includes some of those who have been critical of Russia's recent military escalation in Syria, which has led to the death of at least 185 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  

Khaled Khoja, who earlier this year was elected head of the Western-backed SNC - which has also faced accusations of being out of touch with Syrians on the ground - has reportedly been invited to attend, as were his three predecessors.
     The guestlist includes some of those who have been critical of Russia's recent military escalation in Syria

Other invitees included prominent Syrian academics and business leaders based in Europe.

On Thursday, a Russian news agency reported that a Free Syrian Army delegation had agreed to meet Russian officials in Abu Dhabi late next week, but representatives of four FSA rebel groups dismissed the report.

"Our embassies are in permanent contact with the Syrian opposition, [and] this may well be one of those contacts," Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on Thursday, although stressed that she was "unaware" of the reports.

The reports come as Russia appears to be attempting to remedy its reputation after criticisms of its military role in Syria, with Moscow accused of targeting opposition Syrian rebels, instead of the Islamic State group, and killing civilians.

On Tuesday, Reuters, citing Russian military figures, said the country had conducted military exercises with the US, as well as "US-backed rebels". However, the Pentagon later denied the reports.

Commentators also noted that Moscow had stopped its daily updates over its air raids in Syria, as many have been dissecting their reports to demonstrate that they have not been targeting IS, the purported aim of the Kremlin's military escalation.