18th round of Syria talks begin in Kazakh capital amid constitutional deadlock, expected Turkish intervention
The 18th round of Astana peace process talks on Syria began on Wednesday morning in the Kazakh capital Nursultan, formerly known as Astana, as the head of the Russian delegation said that the Swiss city of Geneva was no longer an appropriate venue for talks on the Syrian constitution.
Peace talks aimed at “de-escalation” between the Syrian regime and opposition have been held in Nursultan since January 2017.
In addition to regime and opposition delegates, the talks are attended by official delegations from the three guarantor nations - Russia and Iran, which support the Syrian regime, and Turkey, which backs opposition forces.
Observer delegations from Jordan and the United Nations are also attending the current round.
The original round of Astana talks in 2017 established four “de-escalation zones” in areas held by opposition forces, but three were later attacked and overrun by regime and Russian forces in violation of agreements reached at the talks.
Idlib province, the sole remaining area of Syria held by anti-Assad rebels, has also been subjected to airstrikes and shelling by regime and Russian forces but has been relatively quiet in recent months.
Separate talks between the regime and the opposition aimed at drafting a constitution for Syria have been held in Geneva under UN sponsorship but have stalled in the face of regime intransigence.
Ahmed Toma, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation to the talks, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the current round of talks in Astana would focus on “the deadlock in the Constitutional Committee, the issue of detainees, and stopping regime violations of the [March 2020] ceasefire”.
On Wednesday, Alexander Lavrentiev, the head of the Russian delegation to the talks said that Russia “believed it was necessary that the Constitutional Committee find a new venue for talks instead of Geneva,” saying that the Swiss city had “lost its neutral position”.
“As a Russian delegation in Geneva, we are facing a difficult time in attending meetings,” he added, according to The New Arab’s affiliate Syria TV.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the international community has imposed a series of punishing sanctions designed to isolate Russia.
Toma also said that the talks would discuss Turkey’s expected military operation against Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria.
Turkey, which currently hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees previously intervened against Kurdish militias in northern Syria in 2018 and 2019 with the help of Syrian proxy forces.
Russia has said that a further intervention will be “unwise”, and the Assad regime has also warned Turkey against intervening.