Sidelined in Syria
Russia Snubs US and UN In New Syria Talks

In the aftermath of Aleppo’s brutal fall, Moscow is adding insult to injury by excluding the U.S. and UN from a new set of Syria peace talks to be brokered by Russia and Turkey. Reuters:

President Vladimir Putin said he and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan are working to organize a new series of Syrian peace talks without the involvement of the United States or the United Nations.

In a snub to Washington, Putin made clear on Friday that the initiative was the sole preserve of Moscow and Turkey and that the peace talks, if they happened, would be in addition to intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva.

“The next step is to reach an agreement on a total ceasefire across the whole of Syria,” Putin said in Tokyo. “We are conducting very active negotiations with representatives of the armed opposition, brokered by Turkey.”

Putin, who has leveraged Russia’s role in Syria to boost his diplomatic muscle, said the talks proposal was being put to the Syrian government and the opposition. Kazakhstan, the proposed venue, is a Russian ally, and Putin said the talks could take place in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

At this point, there should be no remaining doubts about who is calling the shots in Syria. The U.S. has not exercised meaningful influence in Syria for some time now, but the new Russian initiative is a particularly stinging rebuke to the failures of U.S. diplomacy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made his disdain for John Kerry’s efforts plain when he dismissed their frequent talks as “fruitless get-togethers.”

Tellingly, the recent Aleppo evacuation deal was negotiated by Russia and Turkey, not the U.S., and it appeared to catch Western powers off guard. This is yet another sign that Russia is increasingly casting its lot with Turkey to further its interests in Syria. Despite their many differences, this makes some amount of strategic sense. The hope seems to be that Moscow and Ankara can build on their budding rapprochement and work toward a grand settlement on Syria. There are no guarantees that such a scenario will pan out, but it looks like the U.S. will be sitting on the sidelines as Russia and Turkey begin to explore the possibilities.

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