Syria Sochi peace conference off to a bumpy start

Syria Sochi peace conference off to a bumpy start
Boycotts, heckling and even tardiness have characterised the now one-day Russian-led Syria talks.
2 min read
30 January, 2018
The Congress of Syrian National Dialogue plenary session in Sochi [Getty]

The Russian-sponsored Syria talks got off to a bumpy start on Tuesday – delegates opposed to President Bashar al-Assad heckled Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a speech, Reuters reported.

Live footage broadcast on Russian state TV showed two security guards approaching a heckler – gesturing for him to sit down.

The Syria talks are being held in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, with the aim of kickstarting negotiations to draft a new constitution for Syria.

But leaders of the Syrian opposition – including the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) – have boycotted the Russian-led talks.

"The [Syrian] regime doesn’t believe in a political solution and it will not believe in the future ... it only believes in the military option," said opposition leader Nasser al-Hariri, speaking to Arab News.

The United States, the UK and France are also not attending, citing the Syrian regime’s refusal to meaningfully engage.

While UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura is attending the talks, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier stressed the primacy of the UN Geneva process.

SNC members have sharply criticised the UN's decision to attend the conference.

Earlier in the day, a group of delegates including members of the armed opposition refused to leave Sochi airport until Syrian government flags were removed.

“We will go back to Turkey,” Ahmad al-Burri, one opposition member, told Reuters.

“We informed them [the Russians] of our conditions that they should remove all the logos and flags representing the Syrian government,” he added.

The start of the conference was delayed as a result.

“Some problems have arisen with a group of the armed opposition that has come from Turkey which has made its participation dependent on additional demands,” wrote Artyom Kozhin, a senior Russian diplomat, in a public Facebook post.

Russian officials have said that there are ongoing efforts to sabotage the Sochi talks. Just prior to the event, Russian officials downgraded the two-day event to a one-day session.