Russia: Syrian Government "Losing Control"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 13 2012 10:42 AM

Russia Realizes Assad May Not Be Around Forever

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Syrian rebel fighters walk past debris and overturned vehicles used as sniper cover along the front line in the Aleppo neighbourood of Bustan al-Basr on December 8, 2012

Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images.

Russia's top envoy to the Middle East suggested today that President Assad's regime could indeed lose the widening civil war that has already claimed tens of thousands of Syrian lives. The comments were the first time that Russian officials have suggested publicly that their longtime strategic ally may be ousted.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition," deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said. "We must look squarely at the facts, and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory."

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Here's the New York Times with more:

Russia, he said, is preparing to evacuate its citizens — a complex task, since for decades, Russian women have married Syrian men sent to study in Russia and returned to Syria with them to raise families.
It was the first time an official at Mr. Bogdanov’s level had announced plans for an evacuation, which sent a clear message to the Syrian government that Russia no longer held out hope that the government could prevail. He said Russia had a plan to withdraw its personnel from its embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, but it is not yet necessary.

Moscow has long been an outspoken defender of Assad. Since the uprising began in March 2011, Russia has repeatedly acted as the Syrian government's international shield, using their perch on the U.N. Security Council to limit international intervention in the war-torn country.

The acknowledgement that Assad may lose power suggests, at the least, that Russia is preparing for a possible future without Assad as a strategic ally. While they clearly have no desire to see that happen, it has renewed hopes that they may no longer stand so directly in the way.