February 9: Syrian Army completes prisoner swap to free 54 Syrian women, children who'd been kidnapped in Lattakia and held by terrorists for 3-1/2 years.
I don't know where the Feb 23 Geneva talks leave the 'technical' talks involving de Mistura that are supposed to launch in Astana on Feb 15-16, or whether they've been cancelled now that a firm date for the Geneva round has been announced by de Mistura.
From two reports (see below) it could be that Astana is going to be a Russian/Syrian government-led show, and that the talks will specifically address another exchange of prisoners with terrorist groups for hostages and abductees. We'll know in two days the status of that meeting.
Anyway, with regard to the UN-led negotiations, the key parties are currently slated to convene in Geneva on Feb. 20 for pre-talk talks.
Lavrov is cautiously optimistic about the Geneva talks. From SANA, Feb 12, before de Mistura announced Feb 23 as the official start date for the Geneva negotiations and sent out invitations:
Moscow, SANA – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov affirmed on Sunday that the current situation is much more convenient to take practical steps to resolve the crisis in Syria, pointing out that work is underway to prepare for a round of talks in Geneva on the 20th of this month under UN auspices.
In an interview with the NTV Russian Channel, Lavrov said that the “opposition” posing preconditions may lead to postponing this round of talks which would seriously harm the reputation of the UN.
He called on the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to assume his responsibilities related to the formation of an “opposition” delegation to participate in Geneva talks, saying the fluctuating positions of the “opposition groups”, especially those abroad, should not be taken into account. [emphasis mine]
He pointed out that the date of February 20th to resume Syrian dialogue in Geneva is still valid, hoping that the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and de Mistura take their responsibilities in this regard.
Lavrov said that Russia is preparing for new contacts between the Syrian government and the “armed groups” in the Kazakh capital of Astana this week.
“The US was present as an observer at the first Syrian meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital,” he said, adding “they have an invitation from us to send their representative for participation in further contacts, as soon as they form up their Middle East Syrian team.”
He noting that Jordan has assisted in “joining to the process of the armed groups, which are in the so-called Southern Front, and on which Jordan has influence, as they are working right across the border with Syria.”
M. al-Frieh/H. Said
From SANA, February 13:
Damascus, SANA – The Syrian government, due to its keenness on the lives of abducted Syrian citizens, is ready to swap prisoners in exchange for Syrian abductees and hostages held by terrorist groups, an official source said Monday.
The source added that due to the continued coordination between ministries and other bodies concerned and the success of the Syrian government in liberating many civilians and soldiers abducted by the terrorist groups, the government is continuously ready, and particularly in the framework of the exerted efforts for holding next Astana talks, to swap prisoners in exchange for Syrian abductees and hostages held by terrorist groups including men, women, children, civilians and soldiers.
On Thursday and after three and a half years of abduction by the terrorist organizations, scores of women and children returned home to Lattakia after being recently freed from terrorist abduction.