BRUSSELS / MOSCOW
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference during a NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels December 4, 2012. REUTERS photo
The head of NATO
said on Thursday he thought the government of President Bashar al-Assad was nearing collapse, and condemned the use by Assad's forces of Scud missiles to attack rebels, Reuters reported.
"I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse," NATO
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at NATO
headquarters in Brussels.
"I think now it is only a question of time."
Rasmussen said the Syrian government's use of Scud missiles showed "utter disregard" for the lives of Syrian people.Russia acknowledges Assad losing control
A top Russian
diplomat said on Thursday that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is losing "more and more" control of Syria after 21 months of conflict and an opposition victory cannot be ruled out, AFP reported.
"As for preparing for victory by the opposition, this, of course, cannot be excluded," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
"You need to look the facts in the eyes -- the government regime is losing more and more control over a large part of the country's territory," he said.
The RIA Novosti news agency also quoted Bogdanov as saying that the recent recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition by the United States -- following similar moves by other states -- had only emboldened the opposition.
"They (the rebels) are saying that victory is not far away, 'let's take Aleppo, let's take Damascus'," he said. "The recognition of the opposition, the training with rebel fighters and the weapons from abroad are now only inspiring the opposition." Bogdanov said that despite the changing situation on the ground, Moscow would still insist on the fulfilment of an agreement between world powers in Geneva earlier this year to solve the Syria crisis through talks involving all the parties.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia
was surprised by US
President Barack Obama's recognition of the Syrian opposition and Washington was now betting on an armed victory by rebels in the conflict.
Russia has so far defiantly refused to turn against the regime of Assad despite the conflict that according to rights groups has killed 42,000 people since March last year.
The National Coalition is a bloc of opposition groups led by moderate cleric Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib formed after talks in Qatar in November as part of a Western-backed push to make the opposition a more cohesive force.
Meanwhile Russia's top general reaffirmed that Moscow was against any military solution to the conflict.
"Our firm belief is that the solving the Syria conflict is only possible by both sides without interference from a third side and above all without the use of military force," the Russian
military's chief of staff Valery Gerasimov said, quoted by RIA Novosti.
Putin criticises U.S. bill to punish Russian rights abusers
MOSCOW - Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 13 criticised U.S. legislation designed to punish Russian
violators of human rights, calling it a "purely political, unfriendly act."
Putin spoke one week after the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of people involved in the abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian
anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009, and other alleged rights violators.