Putin, Lavrov Move Syrian Military/Diplomatic Operations Forward

The military and diplomatic intervention in Syria by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are rapidly transforming the situation in all of Southwest Asia, and in fact globally. Following last week’s visit to Moscow by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Putin’s meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani at the Valdai Club event in Sochi, Russia, and the meeting between Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and leaders from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan in Vienna, there are discussions from several sources about progress on international cooperation on the Syria crisis, essentially bypassing Obama.

A Russian parliamentary delegation to Damascus reported that President Assad has agreed to hold preliminary elections in the country, on the condition that the move has the backing of the population, according to TASS. Russian Communist Party MP Aleksandr Yushchenko, one of the delegation, said that Assad is “ready to discuss amendments to the constitution, hold parliamentary elections and, if the people of Syria deem necessary, expressed a readiness to hold presidential elections,” which Assad is confident he would win, according to RT. Assad told the Syrian press that he is expecting a visit from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, and chair Valentina Matvienko.

Lavrov appeared on a talk show in Moscow Saturday, to talk about the Syria situation and his meeting with Kerry the day before. He said: “We are ready to include the patriotic opposition, including the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), to provide it with aerial support, although we were declined information on where, according to U.S. data, terrorists are located, and where is the patriotic opposition.”

Fahad Al-Masri, a spokesman for the FSA (although there is some dispute about whether he is in fact a spokesman for the FSA), proposed a meeting in Egypt with the Russians. “The Free Syrian Army is ready for dialogue with Russia,” he said, according to RT. “We need to organize a new meeting, so that we can present our position and discuss our collective actions.”

Interestingly, Lavrov said that Kerry had explained to him the U.S. refusal to accept the delegation led by Prime Minister Medvedev. “John Kerry told me: You know, do not take it so literally, because we are in the process. So far, the conditions for such a contact are not prepared. Let’s work on the ministerial level, and then we’ll be ready to consider your other ideas,” Lavrov said.

Presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov told BBC on Friday (the interview is actually to be aired in full on Monday): “Unfortunately all our partners have failed up to now to identify a serious opposition that has no links to terror, no links with extremist organizations, no links with ISIL, Al Qaeda and others. …. It’s important to save Syria’s integrity, territorial and political integrity, not to let the whole region, including the countries that are bordering Syria, to go into a nightmare of collapse and hegemony of terror.”

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