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Opinion

Opinion: As talks flounder, hope for Syria peace fades

The Syrian opposition left Geneva because negotiations were stalling. Moreover, President Bashar al-Assad is banking on a military victory. A solution to the conflict is nowhere in sight, DW's Barbara Wesel writes.

Of course, there is a certain theater to such conversations: The UN special envoy for Syria on the Intra-Syrian Geneva Talks called the opposition's departure from negotiations "diplomatic posturing." It would be great if that were all there was to it. However, the representatives of the roughly 40 barely aligned opposition groups are doing more than displaying their anger over the unsuccessful talks.

The ceasefire, which is the basis for discussion, was under threat from the outset. But at least the bloodshed has subsided in recent weeks and the warring parties showed up to the negotiating table. However, at the same time, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched his military offensive to capture Aleppo and Latakia. He demonstrated that he is still looking for a military victory with the help of Russia - and not a negotiated peace. At the very least, he hopes to strengthen his position on the ground so that he only ends up making marginal concessions.

That much was obvious in the behavior of Assad's envoys in Geneva: With arrogant demeanor, they derided the opposition and did not show any desire to contribute constructively at any point. The demands for the release of prisoners and assistance to besieged cities were largely ignored. The negotiators refused to discuss Assad's future. The recent mock elections in Damascus were a mere charade, and the proposal for a "national unity government" is an insult; only Assad and a handpicked selection of his political friends would sit in such a government together.

What does Russia want?

When Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly withdrew the bulk of his troops and heavy weapons from Syria in March, it seemed as though a solution was nearing. Would Putin urge his vassals in Damascus to finally put an end to their cruel war? A few weeks later, however, hope seems to have disintegrated again. Assad seems as inflexible as ever, and the dying continues.

For the opposition, peace with Assad is not possible. Negotiators cannot plead a case for the president to the groups they represent: Too many people have died at the dictator's hands. Two of the largest militia groups have already called for taking up arms again now that the ceasefire has effectively been scuttled. Only Moscow's intervention could end the deadlock. But no one knows what Putin wants. A military victory for Assad? The partitioning of the country? Peace on his terms?

Under these circumstances, the Geneva talks are doomed to failure. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura wishes to continue negotiations but lacks the partners. Only a joint intervention of the great powers in the background might prevent the breakdown of the negotiations. Meanwhile, however, there should be a plan B: Images of opposition fighters with anti-aircraft missiles are fueling the rumor that the US is now ready to arm them with equal weapons. This would pave the path to further bloodshed. The country would plunge even deeper into the abyss, and hundreds of thousands more would be forced to flee. The blame lies with Bashar al-Assad and his supporters; the key to the solution is in Moscow. If the third round of peace talks should fail, there remains no hope for Syria.

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