Russian President Vladimir Putin (3R) and President of Syria Bashar Assad (2L) at a meeting at the Kremlin. From right: Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. © Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti
The first U.N.-led Syria peace talks in almost a year are in danger of getting lost in procedure, as officials obsess about who will meet whom, but behind the scenes diplomats say it's largely up to Russia to call the tune.
Russia and the United States were the prime movers behind the last peace talks, which halted as the war heated up.
With the United States now taking a diplomatic back seat, Russia - whose military intervention turned the tide of Syria's war and helped President Bashar al-Assad recapture Aleppo - is potentially a kingmaker.
But its endgame is unclear.
"Our task is only to stabilize the legitimate authorities and deliver a final blow against international terrorism," Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday at a military ceremony as the Geneva talks began.
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WNU Editor: The Kremlin's focus on Syria involves ending the war, negotiating a peace treaty that will keep Assad in power, and keeping their naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus. My prediction .... the Syrian civil war is not going to end according to the Kremlin's timeline.