Russia: Syria’s Assad could be defeated by rebels


By and Babak Dehghanpisheh.The Washington Post.Dec 13, 2012

Russia Syria

 left: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meet in Moscow. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, that President Bashar Assad is losing control over Syria and his opponents may win, the first acknowledgement by Assad’s main ally that he faces a likely defeat.

Russia acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Syrian rebels are gaining in their effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and a top diplomat said Moscow is bracing for the possibility that its longtime ally could lose the bloody civil war that has dragged on for nearly two years.

There was no sign that Russia — Syria’s most powerful patron — would join other foreign nations, including the United States, in supporting the opposition or pressuring Assad to step down.

Syria's most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

Syria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

But after nearly two years in which Russia has sheltered Assad from U.N. condemnation and other attempts to force him out, the statement from Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was an indication that even the Syrian government’s strongest allies are reckoning with military and diplomatic gains that rebel forces have made in recent weeks.

“The opposition’s victory, regrettably, cannot be ruled out,” Bogdanov told a Kremlin advisory body on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency. “We need to face the truth. A current tendency is that the regime and the government keep losing control over an ever-growing territory.”

Russia has had major trade and cultural ties with Syria dating back to the Soviet Union, and it has been reluctant to turn away from its only reliable ally in the Middle East. But Bogdanov’s comments suggested that his government is beginning to confront what might happen if Syria’s government falls, despite Russia’s best efforts to protect it.

Russia’s goals then would be extricating Russian citizens living in Syria and attempting to preserve relations with whoever succeeds Assad. Bogdanov said Thursday that Russia was trying to locate its citizens in Syria and was “currently preparing for a possible evacuation. We have mobilization plans.”

Russia’s official support for Assad remains unwavering, driven in part by a sense that there is still no alternative.

“In Moscow you will find very few people who believe that after Assad, Syria will remain a governable state,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs and a political analyst. “The Russian Foreign Ministry in fact is very much realistic. They have no illusions. They understand what is happening there.”

But in what may have been an attempt to readjust slightly, Bogdanov said during his remarks that about half of Russians in Syria support the opposition. He noted that Russian citizens have joined opposition delegations that have visited Moscow.

In Brussels on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Assad’s government appears to be “approaching collapse,” news services reported. Rasmussen said the defeat of the Syrian military and the fall of the government was “just a matter of time.”

Rebel forces have captured at least half a dozen Syrian military bases in the past two weeks, and they besieged the country’s main commercial airport in Damascus, effectively shutting down the facility temporarily amid heavy fighting.

The Syrian military has struck back hard, dropping bombs and firing artillery shells around Damascus, Aleppo and smaller cities. Opposition groups estimate that at least 40,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.

The United States and other rebel supporters moved expeditiously Wednesday to promote a Syrian opposition political front. More than 100 governments attending a Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, officially recognized the recently formed Syrian Opposition Coalition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organization under which the Syrian opposition are gathering.”

“Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition,” a declaration issued at the meeting said. President Obama announced U.S. recognition of the group Tuesday, in an interview with ABC News.

Syria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

At the same time, the United States and other Western powers remain wary about some armed factions within the rebel movement. The Obama administration earlier this week designated one of the rebel military groups, the al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, as a global terrorist organization. The administration says al-Nusra is part of the al-Qaeda organization in neighboring Iraq.

Over the course of Assad’s bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators and fighters over the last 20 months, Russia and China have vetoed three tough sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council that were intended to punish the Syrian government.

On Wednesday, the United States and NATO said Assad’s military had launched short-range ballistic missiles against rebel forces in recent weeks, a heavy-handed and risky attack that analysts said could be an indication of the government’s desperation.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, which describes the rebel forces as “terrorist groups,” on Thursday denied using Scud missiles. “These missiles were not used in the confrontations with the armed terrorist groups who were proved to have used advanced weapons lately, which they received from conspiring countries, in their attacks against the innocent citizens, the military forces and the public and private infrastructure,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying.

At least one anti-government activist appeared to scoff at the change in message from the Russian government on Thursday.

“The only thing we can tell him really is, “Finally you’re waking up to the truth?” the activist, who uses the nom de guerre Majd al-Shami, said via Skype.

“Russia has been standing on the side of the regime since the very first day of the revolution in Syria,” the activist added. “Logically, they cannot let go of the regime that easily or even fight against it, regardless of the international political situation.”

The violence in Syria continued Thursday, with reports of two car bomb attacks. One blast killed at least 16 people and injured 23 in the town of Qatana in Damascus province, according to SANA. And activists reported a second car bomb in a suburb of Damascus called Jdeidat Artouz, with 17 people believed killed.

 

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