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Russia's outreach to Syria's opposition hints at policy pivot

Russian officials will meet with two Syrian opposition members later this month, as well as UN envoy Kofi Annan, raising hopes that Moscow's support for the Syrian regime is weakening.

By Correspondent / July 2, 2012

Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria Kofi Annan (c.) speaks with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (r.) next to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the start of the meeting of the Action Group on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, June 30.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

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Moscow

Russian officials will hold talks in Moscow with two key Syrian opposition leaders and United Nations envoy Kofi Annan later this month, amid signs that the Kremlin is ready to throw its weight behind Mr. Annan's revised plan for a transitional government and might even be starting to think seriously about life after Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad leaves power.

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Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by the official RIA-Novosti news agency as saying that the first representative, writer and opposition support Michel Kilowill, is expected to arrive later this week. The new head of the Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, will visit Moscow after July 10, and Annan will come for talks around the middle of the month.

The talks with opposition figures are "important because we have to do our best to implement Kofi Annan's plan and decisions of the Geneva conference," the agency quoted Bogdanov as saying.

The Russian moves come just two days after Britain, the US, China, Russia, France, and Turkey met in Geneva and agreed to a plan that would create an interim unity government that could include "members of the present government and the opposition and other groups" that would draft a new constitution and initiate a democratic process for choosing new leadership for the country.

The spiraling conflict in Syria, which most are now calling a civil war, has killed more than 16,500 people since it began last March, according to figures from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released today. The UN has not recently published casualty estimates. 

During the Geneva talks, Russia, followed its long-standing position on the Syria crisis and insisted on the removal of language in the final resolution that might have required Mr. Assad to step aside. That led the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group endorsed by the West, to label the talks a "mockery" and vow to keep on fighting.

But Western leaders say that the resolution requires the transitional body to be formed by "mutual assent," which means the most contentious figure, Assad, will probably have to go or the body won't be formed. Assad has given no signs of stepping down from power. 

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