Kazakhstan decides to stop hosting Syria talks, surprising Russia

Kazakhstan’s decision was not expected, says a Russian official, as the ex-Soviet nation claims the talks have achieved their purpose.

Participants of Syria peace talks attend meeting in Astana
Syria peace talks have been held in Astana, Kazakhstan for several years [File: Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/Reuters]

Kazakhstan will stop hosting talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict that erupted 12 years ago, officials have announced, a decision that Russia described as a surprise.

Wednesday’s move is also likely to come as a shock to other participants at the wrapping up of the 20th round of talks held in the capital, Astana

Since 2017, the former Soviet nation has provided a venue for talks to representatives of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran on ways to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the talks have fulfilled their mission and “the initial goals, including the creation of de-escalation zones, ending the bloodshed and reducing the number of casualties have been fully implemented”.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Aibek Smadiyarov, cited Syria’s recent return to the Arab League and the efforts to restore ties with Turkey as proof that the Astana talks have achieved their purpose.

But Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria, who led Moscow’s delegation at the talks, said that Kazakhstan’s decision had come as a complete surprise.

“The Kazakh foreign ministry’s move was unexpected,” he told reporters after the talks wrapped up.

Lavrentyev said that no decision has been made regarding the venue for future talks, but added that they could be held in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, or even Damascus in the second half of the year.

This week’s round of talks followed continuing improvements in ties between Syria and Arab countries that once backed opposition groups fighting inside the country and called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Lavrentyev hailed Syria’s reinstatement in May into the Arab League during its summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as an “important step” towards ending the conflict.

Representatives from the UN and Syria’s neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, attended the Astana talks as observers. They expressed their hopes to see a swift end to the conflict and the return of millions of refugees living in their countries.

A statement by Turkey, Russia, and Iran noted that the latest round of talks in Astana was “constructive” and discussed “progress in preparing the plan for the restoration of relations between Turkey and Syria.”

Moscow has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to allow al-Assad’s government to reclaim control over most of the country. Turkey has backed armed opposition to al-Assad throughout the Syrian war.

While the bulk of Russia’s armed forces has been busy fighting in Ukraine, Moscow has maintained its military foothold in Syria and has also made consistent efforts to help al-Assad rebuild fractured ties with Turkey and other countries in the region.

Turkey has had troops in northwestern Syria backing opposition fighters in an opposition-held enclave there.

Syrian Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan said on Tuesday that Turkey should produce a “clear timeline” for the withdrawal of its forces from Syria.

In May, Turkey and Syria’s foreign ministers agreed to set up a “roadmap” to improve strained ties following talks in Moscow, days after the war-torn country was readmitted to the Arab League. It marked the highest-level contact between the two countries since the start of the Syrian uprising, which expanded into a war involving multiple foreign powers, more than 10 years ago.

The Syrian conflict has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

Source: AP