MOSCOW — As 2017 was winding down, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Dec. 26 to discuss the future. In addition to North Korea and Ukraine, the two diplomats discussed options on moving the stalled political process on Syria and the Moscow-proposed Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Earlier, 40 opposition groups declared they would refuse to participate in the congress, accusing Moscow of “failing to pressure its ally, [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad.” Russia, however, is bound to hold the congress, which is currently set for Jan. 29-30. In the meantime, Moscow continues to engage different opposition groups individually and is cautiously pushing Damascus to do more on the humanitarian side — the latest Ghouta medical evacuation may be a sign of the very modest progress in this area. Yet Moscow seems reluctant to pressure Assad on political matters and continues to provide air support for the Syria army's offensives to seize control of opposition-held areas.