The two-day congress is expected to boost the peace process and kick-start efforts to draft a new constitution.
The Congress is sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the leaders of the three countries having agreed to the all-Syrian Congress in November. The main goal of the meeting is to gather “delegates from various political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic and confessional groups at the negotiating table,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time.
Over 1,500 delegates, representing various groups of Syrian society, have been invited to participate in the talks. The aim is to lay the foundation for a peaceful future for the war-torn country; the delegates are expected to begin work on a new constitution and discuss reconciliation in Syria.
It will be a landmark event, the first to give voice to so many different groups from Syrian society, including the government and the opposition. While instant reconciliation is unlikely, the Congress will get the ball rolling, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
"The work that is going on is extremely complex and thorny. But holding the congress itself is a significant step towards a political solution,” Peskov stated. “One should not expect that the political reconciliation will be achieved in Sochi.”
Boosting Geneva talks
The Congress in Sochi is not designed to replace, but rather to boost the Syrian peace process, namely the UN-sponsored Geneva talks, which have stalled for years, largely due to the insistence of some Syrian opposition representatives upon unrealistic preconditions before engaging in talks with the country’s government.
"We believe... that the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi will be able to create conditions for staging fruitful Geneva talks, taking into consideration that the part of the Syrian opposition that constantly makes preconditions, including for regime change, will be talked into sense by those who control it,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier in January.
Russia, Iran and Turkey hope the talks could compensate for the lack of progress in UN-brokered talks to end Syria's seven-year war. The three countries have coordinated the establishment of deescalation zones in Syria - a separate initiative which many say has helped drastically reduce fighting in the Arab country.
On January 26, the ninth round of UN-brokered indirect peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups was held in the Austrian capital city of Vienna.
The UN talks have so far failed to achieve any concrete results, mainly due to the opposition’s insistence that the Syrian government cede power.
Saudi-backed group boycotts
The Saudi Arabia-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), an umbrella body created back in 2016 to represent some of the Syrian rebel groups at the Geneva talks, has decided to boycott the Congress, just days before its launch. The group claimed it was supporting “credible political transition” in the Geneva format instead.
The HNC, however, has not demonstrated unity in boycotting the Sochi congress as part of the group, namely the so-called Moscow and Cairo opposition platforms, voted to attend the event and are expected to take part.
Despite the claims of parts of the Syrian opposition that the Sochi Congress would somehow jeopardize the international peace process, it was embraced by the main sponsor of the Geneva talks – the UN. The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will take part in the Congress after accepting Moscow’s invitation days before the event.