Russia's envoy for Syria peacemaking efforts says that President Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to run for reelection, a stance that runs counter to Western governments that say he should have no place in politics after a postwar political transition.
Aleksandr Lavrentyev, President Vladimir Putin's special representative at international talks on the war in Syria, made the remarks to Bloomberg News for an article published on December 12 -- a day after Putin traveled to Syria, declared victory, and ordered the start of a partial withdrawal of Russian forces two years after Moscow launched a campaign of air strikes in support of Assad's government and stepped up its military involvement on the ground.
The statement comes as Western countries seek to condition aid for the future reconstruction of Syria on the departure of Assad, who they blame for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his citizens. It suggests that Russia may hope it can steer a potential political transition in a way that enables Moscow to maintain as much clout as possible in the Middle Eastern country.
“I don’t see why he shouldn’t or wouldn’t run for another presidential term,” Lavrentyev told Bloomberg in an interview in Ankara, where Putin stopped on December 11 after visits to Syria and Egypt the same day. “This is entirely up to him.”
Lavrentyev told Bloomberg that Western countries should not "say that they’ll give money only when they see that the opposition comes to power or their interests are fully accommodated.”
“It’s not all about the U.S., France, or Great Britain. There are Russia, Iran, China, India, and many other countries,” he said, adding that Syrian businesses could also contribute to reconstruction.
Russia plans to host the Syrian government and opposition groups in the Black Sea resort of Sochi early in 2018 to discuss the blueprint for a political settlement, including a new constitution that would then be endorsed at UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.
Bloomberg cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the Russian initiative appeared to be aimed at leaving Assad in power and getting others to pay for reconstruction. The report cited the U.S. officials as saying that the United States and its European allies are in agreement that there should be no international funding to rebuild areas under government control.
Under a plan endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2015, Syria would hold a presidential election under international supervision within 12 months of the formation of an interim government. The United States, the European Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council refused to recognize a 2014 election in which official results said that Assad won another seven years in power with 89 percent of the vote.
In addition to its military support, which helped turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor at a time when his defeat seemed near, Russia has given his government crucial diplomatic backing. Using its veto power and clout as a permanent UN Security Council member, Russia has repeatedly shielded Assad from censure and punishment over a war that has killed some 400,000 people and driven millions from their homes.