Syrian opposition figures and several Arab leaders dismissed the Russian 8-point interim plan for Syria, saying Moscow's aim was to keep Bashar al Assad in power and marginalise dissenting voices.
Russia proposed a new plan to the United Nations for Syria, which includes the Syrian government and the opposition to agree on an eight-point proposal that includes ensuring the regime leader Bashar al Assad partakes in the early elections.
“[The] popularly elected president of Syria will have the functions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, control of special services and foreign policy" an article from the proposal said ahead of the international talks on Syria this week.
"The Syrian people have never accepted the dictatorship of Assad and they will not accept that it is reintroduced or reformulated in another way," said Monzer Akbik, member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.
"The Russians are now trying to play the game they have been playing since Geneva," he told Reuters, referring to United Nations-led peace talks that collapsed in 2014.
The addressed plan did not specify which opposition affiliation should take part in the constitutional reform process that would take up to 18 months, followed by early presidential elections. Which only added to the ambiguity of the plan.
"The Russians are basically trying to wiggle out of Geneva," said Mustafa Alani, director of defence and security at the Gulf Research Centre (GRC) think tank. "So it is the question of he can stay: it's a red line for all the Gulf Cooperation Council. Absolutely a red line. This is something that won't be a negotiable issue."
Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft also dismissed the Russian plan as well, although he pointed out that Moscow is at least trying to come up with a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Russia started launching air strikes in Syria in September 30 with the initial claim that it would be battling DAESH, signalling a new chapter in the Syrian conflict. However, in time Russia's intentions in Syria appeared only to be protecting the Bashar al Assad regime and its withering authority.
Since the beginning of the four-year war in Syria, more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed, mainly by the Assad regime, whilst half of the country’s population is displaced internally or in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. More than 350,000 Syrians have also claimed asylum in Europe.
‘Assad must leave’
Saudi Arabia, a stringent critic of Assad’s regime that killed thousands of innocent civilians, had its Foreign Minister address the Russian plan as well.
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir has said he must be removed from power to make room for peace in the war torn country. "Assad's departure is not completed in a peaceful manner, then it will be completed in a military manner," Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh after a summit of Arab and Latin American leaders.
Although Jubeir’s comments did not fall directly over the Russian plan, but it made the Saudi sentiment towards Assad’s regime explicitly clear. Since the Russian plan does not exclude his participation.
Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the Syrian coalition's political committee, dismissed the idea of holding elections under the current system.
"How can the elections be fair when the citizens inside Syria are afraid of retaliation from the security services of the regime?" he said.