GENEVA (Reuters) - Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Tuesday a U.N. Security Council resolution put forward by Western powers to punish Syria’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would harm peace talks in Geneva.
The resolution, vetoed by Russia and China, amid U.N.-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties, had aimed to ban the supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist Syrian military commanders.
“It is counter-constructive,” Gatilov told reporters. “The climate will be negative, not because we veto it, but because this resolution was put forward.”
Salem al-Muslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, said that the opposition regretted Russia’s seventh veto on Syria, but planned to meet Gatilov and hoped that Russia would pressure its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We hope that they come here having something in mind to push the political process here in Geneva, because with this regime, we will reach nowhere unless there is a pressure and the only country that can deliver pressure on the regime is Russia,” Muslet told Reuters Television.
The Geneva peace process has barely reached first gear, with five days of discussion solely on how to arrange the talks.
The negotiations would only begin in earnest when the Syrian government started discussing a transitional governing body and “the real transitional process in Syria”, Muslet said.
Russia is seen playing a key role because of its influence with Assad and because it has driven a new diplomatic push since December, when its air force helped defeat rebels in Aleppo, Assad’s biggest victory in six years of war.
The opposition has long distrusted Russia as a peace broker, and a ceasefire backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey has not entirely stopped the fighting.
“It’s complicated to talk to the Russians. We need to talk to them, but we risk being accused at any moment of being traitors, especially after what happened at the U.N. today,” a member of the opposition delegation said.
Gatilov said he would meet the opposition on Wednesday. Opposition sources had said they expected to meet the Middle East director at Russia’s foreign ministry, Sergei Vershinin, later on Tuesday.
However, those meetings appeared in doubt after the Russian veto.
The opposition has also accused Russia of helping Assad crush all his opponents in the name of counter-terrorism, even those committed to the ceasefire who are not members of groups designated as terrorists by the United Nations.
U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura has proposed to the negotiators in Geneva that the issue of fighting terrorism and the ceasefire should be handled in parallel talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
He wants the focus in Geneva to be a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and accountable governance, based on Security Council resolution 2254.
Gatilov said he should include terrorism in the talks.
“The fight against terrorism is a priority and should be on the agenda (in Geneva) along with other issues,” Gatilov said.
“We met with (Syrian government negotiator Bashar) Ja‘afari and he reconfirmed that he is not against the agenda proposal, but he said that terrorism should not be ignored and should also be on the agenda,” Gatilov said.
The opposition official said they would tell de Mistura on Wednesday that if the government publicly said it was ready to discuss political transition, that would keep the process alive.
“The opposition is flexible and ready to make concessions, but the government must commit to a political transition. After that we’ll talk about everything and we’re ready to add terrorism to the list,” the official said.
Additional reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Andrew Roche