What the Russians are discussing at Astana is an amended formula to a former agreement, one that keeps no light arms in southern Syria.
BEIRUT - The ninth round of Syrian peace talks wrapped up in Astana on May 15 with several topics on the agenda, including confidence-building measures, the fate of prisoners, outcomes of the Sochi Conference of January 2018 and, more importantly, the future of the now dysfunctional “de-conflict zones” in the Syrian battlefield.
Present were three of Syria’s main foreign players — Russia, Iran and Turkey, with Damascus and rebel groups all sending delegates to the talks. Two main absences were noted at Astana IX. One was Mohammad Alloush of Jaysh al-Islam. He had led the opposition delegation to all previous rounds. He stepped down in early May after his army was defeated and ejected from Douma, the principal town of the Damascus countryside. Replacing him is a politician rather than a militant, Ahmad Tomeh, a mosque preacher turned dentist and then politician. He is from the town of Deir ez-Zor along the Euphrates River.
The second absence was that of the United States, which has enjoyed the status of “observer” at the Astana talks since February 2017. None of the three guarantors seemed to mind the American no-show, with Russian presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentyev using it to continue hammering out an endgame to the Syrian conflict, tailor-made to fit the liking of his boss, Vladimir Putin.