Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - In this file photo taken on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, speaks with riot police officers blocking the way during a massive protest rally against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule in St. Petersburg, Russia. The poster reads: 'We will not be frighten". Russian investigators have launched a probe against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, suspecting him of fraud and money laundering. 36-year-old Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, was a driving force behind last winter’s wave of anti-Putin rallies. Over the winter, the anti-corruption activist spearheaded a series of rallies in Moscow that drew up to 100,000 people to the streets ahead of the March vote that handed Putin a third presidential term.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)
Russia backtracks on statement about Assad’s fall
First Published Dec 14 2012 05:59 pm • Last Updated Dec 14 2012 05:59 pm

Moscow • Russia’s attempt to backpedal after a top diplomat said Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country reflects the dilemma Moscow faces as opposition fighters gain ground.

Throughout the Syrian crisis, Russia has tried to walk a fine line — eschewing statements of outright support for Assad while blocking international attempts either to pressure him to stop the fighting or to leave power altogether.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Instead, Russia has insisted that negotiations are the only way to resolve the crisis and has portrayed itself as a principled opponent of foreign intervention.

The strategy, however, has led some to view Moscow’s stance as a disingenuous attempt to prop up a dictator in a country where activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

As the fighting in Syria intensified over recent months, Russian officials have held back from public assessments of whether Assad’s regime would survive. But on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by major Russian news agencies as saying "there is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory" and "an opposition victory can’t be excluded."

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a convoluted denial, saying its top envoy for Syria was merely characterizing the opinion of the Syrian opposition rather than stating Russia’s view.

"In that context, Bogdanov again confirmed Russia’s principled stance that a political settlement in Syria has no alternative," ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

While Bogdanov’s statement seemed to signal Russia’s attempt to begin positioning itself for Assad’s eventual defeat, the Foreign Ministry’s backtracking clearly indicated that Moscow has no intention yet of pulling away from its Mideast ally.

This was reinforced by Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, who was in Moscow on Friday to meet with Bogdanov and his boss, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"There have been no changes in Russia’s position," Jamil told journalists after the meeting. "Russia stands for dialogue and against foreign interference."

story continues below
story continues below

Facing further questions Friday about Bogdanov’s statement, Lukashevich insisted there had been no shift in the Russian position on Syria. He said Moscow is continuing to call for a political dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition on the basis of the peace plan agreed upon at an international conference in June.

"Our only goal is to end the violence in Syria as quickly as possible, start a dialogue between the Syrians, between the government and the opposition, and work out a formula for advancing a political process," Lukashevich said. "There hasn’t been and there won’t be any retraction from our principled line on the Syrian affairs."

Georgy Mirsky, a leading Mideast expert with the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, a top foreign policy think tank supported by the Russian government, said Bogdanov may have slipped up.

"Bogdanov went very far, and the question is whether he coordinated his statement with Lavrov," the analyst said. "If he didn’t, he may have gotten himself in trouble."

Mirsky said it would be difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to dump Assad.

"It would amount to a loss of face, look like caving in to Western pressure. That’s not in his character," Mirsky said. "Russia is going to lose Syria anyway. But if it’s lost as a result of Assad’s ouster or killing or a coup by his own men, it wouldn’t look like Putin’s defeat. But he would look very bad indeed if even he doesn’t wait for Bashar Assad to go away."

The U.S. quickly commended Russia on Thursday for "waking up to the reality" by acknowledging the Syrian regime’s impending fall, but Lukashevich lashed back, saying that "we haven’t fallen asleep."

"We haven’t changed our position and we won’t," he said.

Russia maintains a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such outpost outside the ex-Soviet Union serving Russian navy ships in the Mediterranean and hosting an unspecified number of military personnel. Russia also has an unspecified number of military advisers teaching Syrians how to use Russian weapons, which make up the bulk of Syria’s arsenals.

Syria is Russia’s last remaining ally in the Middle East and has been a major customer of Soviet and Russian weapons industries for the last four decades, acquiring billions of dollars’ worth of combat jets, helicopters, missiles, armored vehicles and other military gear.

Russia has joined with China at the U.N. Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad’s regime over its bloody crackdown on the uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow also has continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons despite strong international protests.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.