Financial Times reports: Syrian rebels are in secret talks with Russia to end the fighting in Aleppo, according to opposition figures, a development that shows how the US could become sidelined in some of the Middle East’s most pivotal conflicts.
Four opposition members from rebel-held northern Syria told the Financial Times that Turkey has been brokering talks in Ankara with Moscow, whose military intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad has helped turn the five-year civil war in the regime’s favour. Russia is now backing regime efforts to recapture the rebel’s last urban stronghold in Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
“The Russians and Turks are talking without the US now. It [Washington] is completely shut out of these talks, and doesn’t even know what’s going on in Ankara,” said one opposition figure, who asked not to be identified.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has provided limited training and weaponry for the rebels but had been hesitant to give forceful backing that could turn the tide in the opposition’s favour. President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly signalled willingness to back Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s efforts to shore up the Assad regime, arguing they are working to stamp out Islamic extremists.
While the secret contacts are not the first time a rebel representative has met with the Russians, those familiar with the talks said it was the first time such a large number of opposition groups were involved. [Continue reading…]