Several Syrian rebel groups have rejected Russian plans for a conference on Syria, accusing Moscow of war crimes. They also claimed Russia was trying to impose its conditions on the Syrian people.
Russia's planned peace conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi has come under fire from Syrian rebel groups who accuse Moscow of wanting to bypass the UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva to turn the conflict in Syria to its own advantage.
"The Russians are trying by this conference to bypass the Geneva talks and will try to impose their conditions of the Syrian people," Ahmed Ramadan, the head of the press department in the Syrian National Coalition, told German news agency DPA on Tuesday.
In a statement signed by around 40 rebel groups, including some who took part in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, Russia was also accused of doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the Syrian people.
"Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians," the statement said, also claiming that it was "an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians."
Moscow, which for two years has been helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to put down a long-running rebellion, has said it will host peace talks between Syria's government and opposition groups at the end of January. It says the planned conference, backed by Iran and Turkey, is aimed at providing momentum for the Geneva negotiations.
Russia has become the dominating force in Syria following its military intervention. It would like to see its longtime ally Assad remain in power after the conflict is over, a stance that has brought it into conflict notably with the United States, which sees no future role for the president in the country.
The Syrian conflict began with initially peaceful anti-Assad protests in early 2011 that escalated into violence amid a brutal crackdown by government troops. Since then, more than 330,000 people have been killed in a war that has drawn in a complex array of both state and non-state actors, including Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and extremist Islamist groups.
tj/rc (Reuters, dpa)