“I believe that Russia has not given up on Assad and would prefer he remain in power during the transition period,” said Yaşar Yakış, a former minister of foreign affairs and the president of the Ankara-based Center for Strategic Communication (STRATİM).
Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu met with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister and Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the Middle East, on Thursday and it was announced after the meeting by the Russian side that Turkey and Russia had agreed the crisis in Syria should be settled as per a Geneva consensus on which the international community agreed at the end of June last year.
“The importance of the Syrian crisis being settled in accordance with the Geneva consensus agreed on by the Action Group [for Syria] that the territorial integrity of Syria be protected and that all segments of its society be included in the process was noted,” the Russian side stated after the meeting.
The Geneva consensus calls for the establishment of a transitional government of national unity in Syria. This transitional government, in which both members of Assad's government and representatives of opposition groups could take part, would have full executive powers. This government would be tasked with writing a new constitution, after which elections would be held. However, immediately after the announcement of the Geneva agreement, the United States and Russia offered differing interpretations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the document agreed to does not imply the Syrian president should step down, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Assad will still have to go.”
Yakış noted that a transition period with Assad does not mean that the current president will remain in power throughout the entire transition period. “This may be a way of offering Assad an honorable way to leave power,” he told Today's Zaman, adding that Russia and the US seem to have agreed on a transition period with Assad.
The statement made by the Russian side also said that Russian-Turkish dialogue is much needed for the settlement of all problems in the Middle East. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Selçuk Ünal confirmed that the two countries have agreed to continue consulting each other. “The two sides have agreed that steps that would pave the way for a political transition, that would make it possible for the transition period to start as soon as possible, should be taken,” Ünal told Today's Zaman.
Russia looks reluctant to accept Assad leaving power, at least when it comes to playing an instrumental role in his departure. At a meeting in Moscow with the joint special representative of the UN and the Arab League to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, at the end of last year, Lavrov made a point of noting that Assad has no intention of leaving his post. “Assad doesn't plan to leave Syria; he will stay at his post. The opposition should stop asking for Assad's departure,” Lavrov said.
Nüzhet Kandemir of Bahçeşehir University believes the reference to the Geneva consensus in Russia's statement is an indication that the crisis in Syria is not an issue between Turkey and Russia but one to be dealt with in accordance with the consensus reached in Geneva last June. “By making reference to Geneva, Russia is giving priority to its own views. And Turkey is giving the impression that it has accepted a policy more in line with the one Russia favors,” Kandemir told Today's Zaman.
Bogdanov met with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in Geneva on Friday in search of a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Their discussion was expected to focus on creating circumstances that would pave the way to a transitional government in Syria.
The Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) announced on Friday that Turkey currently hosts 153,324 Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country.
Faruk Akkan contributed to this report from Moscow.