Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to hold early parliamentary elections and to share power with some members of the opposition.
Bloomberg reports that the proposed concession by the regime could allow for the formation of an international coalition to fight the self-declared Islamic State, which the United States and its partners have so far rejected.
The US, Europe, and Turkey, as well as the Gulf states, sided with the Syrian opposition after antigovernment unrest began in 2011. Russia and Iran have backed the Assad regime. But the emergence of IS in Iraq and Syria has added a new geopolitical dimension to the conflict.
"We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism," Putin told journalists on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia's Far East hub of Vladivostok, adding he had spoken to US President Barack Obama on the matter.
"We are also working with our partners in Syria. In general, the understanding is that this uniting of efforts in fighting terrorism should go in parallel to some political process in Syria itself," Putin said.
"And the Syrian president agrees with that, all the way down to holding early elections, let's say, parliamentary ones, establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing."
But any elections held in Syria without a truce would likely lack legitimacy. Assad controls only part of the country, and while he would likely win a vote in those areas handily, it would not be a true election, Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, tells Bloomberg.
“How can you organize a fair election in a country that’s shattered by war, with no security, fair electoral law or freedoms?” he said.
At the crux of disagreements between Russia and other international powers is Assad’s role in a future government. Russia expects Assad to be a part of any agreement and the US and Europe have insisted he must step aside.
Meanwhile, reports of a Russian military presence in Syria have been swirling, although Putin insisted today that it is only being considered. The Telegraph published photos earlier this week of what appeared to be Russian planes and drones over Syria.
The conflict in Syria is gaining new urgency amid the burgeoning migrant crisis, The New York Times reports. Refugees turned away by Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors are increasingly traveling toward Europe, making dangerous journeys by sea and land that can end in death.
This week, the harrowing photograph of a Syrian toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey managed to break through the seeming indifference to the issue, prompting British Prime Minister David Cameron to pledge to accept “thousands more” Syrian refugees. An estimated 11 million Syrians are refugees.
“Had European countries sought serious solutions to political conflicts like the one in Syria, and dedicated enough time and resources to humanitarian assistance abroad, Europe would not be in this position today,” Lina Khatib, a research associate at the University of London, tells The New York Times.
In an article headlined "Exodus of Syrians highlights political failure of the West," the paper writes:
It was never any secret that a rising tide of Syrian refugees would sooner or later burst the seams of the Middle East and head for Europe. Yet little was done in Western capitals to stop or mitigate the slow-motion disaster that was befalling Syrian civilians and sending them on the run.
Syrians have so little hope for a solution in the near future that talk in the capital, Damascus, among supporters and opponents of the government alike, has turned to plans for getting overseas, especially to Europe.