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Russia wants new Syria constitution in 18 months

November 11, 2015

A plan from the Kremlin to create a new constitutional commission in Syria has raised a few oppositional eyebrows. It neither calls for the immediate resignation of Assad, nor bars him from standing for election.

Syrien FSA-Kämpfer
Image: Reuters/A. Al-Faqir

Though the Russian government had denied having drafted a proposal to solve the crisis in Syria, news outlets on Wednesday began to circulate a document purporting to be exactly that. The plan, which calls for an 18-month transition period, but does not explicitly call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, was met with dismay by the Syrian opposition.

The plan from Moscow would see UN special envoy Staffan di Mistura oversee a period of political dialogue between the Assad regime and "a united delegation of the opposition groups." The group would draft a new constitution, which would be put to a referendum ahead of a presidential election.

It does not mention Assad resigning ahead of the constitutional debate, a key rebel demand, but only mentions the Syrian leader by saying he would "not chair the constitutional commission." It also does not rule out Assad standing for election at the end of the process.

"The Syrian people have never accepted the dictatorship of Assad, and they will not accept that it is reintroduced or reformulated in any way," said Monzer Akbik, leader of the West-supported Syrian National Coalition, to Reuters news agency.

"The Russians are now trying to play the game they have been playing since Geneva," he continued, referencing UN-led peace talks that fell apart in 2014.

All sides avoid the Assad question

The document was circulated ahead of a second round of peace talks to take place in Vienna on Saturday. Speaking with the Associated Press, Moscow's deputy ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, expressed regret that the document had leaked, but defended its contents by saying "it's just the Russian contribution" and that the Kremlin was "receptive for proposals from the other side."

Moscow, along with Tehran, has been one of the staunchest international allies of the Assad regime throughout the nearly five-year conflict. The first round of Vienna talks on October 30 ended with an agreement between the US, Russia, Iran and around a dozen other nations to launch a new peace process involving both the government in Damascus and opposition groups. However, they neatly skirted the issue of Assad remaining in power- a dilemma at the heart of a war that has cost more than 250,000 lives.

es/kms (AP, Reuters)