On 24-25 January, the 21st international meeting on Syria unfolded in the Kazakh capital as part of the Astana process—a trilateral forum sponsored by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
What adds intrigue to this event is not just the resumption of the process following the host's abrupt announcement last June to stop hosting talks—a surprise to many, including the three sponsors.
Even more noteworthy is Moscow's attempt to leverage this platform for negotiations with neighbouring states, even though they have chosen to attend as observers.
The initiation of direct talks — namely with Jordan and Lebanon — to ease heightened tension with the Syrian regime might indicate an effort to modify the mandate of the Astana process to be geared towards supporting regional normalisation efforts with Assad in the wake of reported setbacks.
Launched in January 2017, the Astana process was established by Russia, Iran, and Turkey with the aim of reducing levels of armed violence in Syria and seeking diplomatic solutions to the conflict. Delegations from these sponsors — in addition to the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition — typically participate in the negotiations. Meanwhile, representatives of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the UN attend as observers.
As the participants wrapped up the 20th round of talks in June 2023, Kazakhstan dropped a bombshell, declaring it would no longer host the discussions. According to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry, the talks had achieved their mission, marking successes like creating de-escalation zones, ending bloodshed, and reducing casualties.
The ministry also pointed to Syria's recent re-entry into the Arab League and efforts to restore ties with Turkey as evidence that the Astana talks had achieved their objectives.