Scant hope of Syria peace breakthrough as Russia pounds rebels

Major powers meeting in Germany on Thursday aim to revive Syria peace efforts, but with Russia backing a government push for a military victory, opposition delegates and Western officials see little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough.

United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura halted the first attempt to negotiate an end to Syria’s war in two years after an unprecedented offensive by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Western-backed rebels supported by Russian air strikes.

In an attempt to prevent a collapse of diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s five-year-old civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid access ahead of a meeting of the so-called International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Munich this week.

But one U.N. diplomatic source said Russia was “stringing Kerry along” in order to provide diplomatic cover for Moscow’s real goal – to help Assad win on the battlefield instead of compromising at the negotiating table.

“It’s clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn’t want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win,” said the diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A senior adviser to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, told Reuters in Damascus on Tuesday that there would be no let-up in the army advance, which aimed to recapture the city of Aleppo from rebels and secure Syria’s border with Turkey.

REUTERS THEOSASUSHOW