Russian envoy urges halt to Syria violence in Damascus talks

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov travelled to Damascus on Monday for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin said.

Bogdanov called for an immediate ceasefire by both the Syrian government and the opposition and urged Assad to implement his promised reforms without delay.

The Russian envoy also urged opposition leaders to begin dialogue with the authorities in order to restore peace and move towards democratic reforms, the Kremlin’s statement said.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Bogdanov to travel to Syria to engage more actively with international efforts to resolve the political crisis that has hit the Arab country since mid-March.

“I think he was sent to study the real situation in Syria, find out how strong the Assad regime is and what further steps it is going to take,” said Vladimir Isayev from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies.

He added that Assad has been “late” to adopt measures that could ease tensions in the country.

The Syrian president, he said, “should have acted ahead of the curve,” by discussing constitutional changes with parliament to reduce the president’s unlimited powers, declaring an amnesty, except for those guilty of murder, and bringing the opposition to the negotiating table.

Bogdanov was probably ordered to present similar proposals to Assad, the expert added.

The Syrian opposition has refused to negotiate with Assad, who continues a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters despite growing international condemnation. The Syrian government says they are fighting “armed gangs coordinated from abroad.”

The unrest in Syria has already claimed more than 2,200 lives, according to UN estimates.

Syrian opposition leaders announced last week the creation of the Transitional National Council to coordinate efforts to topple Assad. Earlier on Monday, they announced that Syrian-French Sorbonne University professor Burhan Ghalioun had been appointed the council’s head.

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