Beirut: A Russian initiative to host peace talks this month between the Syrian government and its opponents appears to be unraveling as prominent Syrian opposition figures shun the prospective negotiations amid deep distrust of Moscow and concerns the talks hold no chance of success.
The faltering effort suggests that even after four years and at least 220,000 people killed, the antagonists in Syria's civil war are far from burning themselves out and will likely keep fighting for a more decisive battlefield advantage before any real talks can take place.
The planned meetings in Moscow, scheduled to start Jan 26, would be the first on Syria since a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva collapsed early last year after making no headway.
But the Syrian tableau has changed dramatically since then.
President Bashar Assad faces growing resentment among his supporters in the wake of bloody defeats, while his main patrons, Russia and Iran, are feeling the pinch from the global plunge in oil prices. Syria's mainstream opposition political and armed teeters on the brink of irrelevance, and the extremist Islamic State group has seized control of large chunk of northeastern Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The United States also has joined the fray, carrying out airstrikes with its allies against Islamic State group militants while leaving Assad's forces untouched.
Washington has been conspicuously absent from the diplomatic shuffle toward Moscow, unwilling to spend its political capital to cajole the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, to attend peace talks that have limited hopes of success.