Syria’s al-Assad losing control, Russia admits
MOSCOW / DAMASCUS
A Syrian rebel mans a Duska heavy machine as he scans the skies for Syrian air force fighter jets in Maaret Al-Numan in this November photo. AFP photoSyria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said for the first time yesterday that President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of his country and that rebels might win the civil war, dramatically shifting the diplomatic landscape at a time when 16 people were killed and the interior minister was injured in separate attacks in Syria.
“As for preparing for a victory by the opposition, this, of course, cannot be excluded,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS news agency. Bogdanov’s statement marks a clear attempt by the Kremlin to begin positioning itself for al-Assad’s eventual defeat. “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.
His comments appear to be the first time that a senior Russian official has explicitly acknowledged that the opposition could defeat al-Assad and take power in Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.
At the same time, Bogdanov reaffirmed Russia’s call for a compromise, saying it would take the opposition a long time to defeat the regime and Syria would suffer heavy casualties, The Associated Press reported.
“The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “If such a price for the ousting of the president seems acceptable to you. We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable.” Bogdanov repeated that Russia would stick to an agreement reached in Geneva in June calling for negotiations involving the government and the opposition.
In another sign of Moscow’s growing recognition of the seriousness of the situation, Bogdanov said Moscow was drawing up action plans that could be used to evacuate Russian citizens from Syria if needed. He said the majority of Russians living in Syria are Russian women who married Syrian men and their children.
There is no plans yet to evacuate diplomats and their families, he added. Advancing rebels now hold an almost continuous arc of territory from the east to the southeast of Damascus, despite fierce army bombardments designed to drive them back.
Turkey and Russia agreed to work on a plan for “political change” in Syria during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul last week.
A car bomb killed at least 16 men, women and children in Qatana, a town about 25 kilometers southwest of Damascus where many soldiers live, activists and state media said.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 17, including seven children and two women. State news agency SANA said 16 people had died. State television blamed the blast on “terrorists,” its term for rebels.
The bombing followed a triple bomb attack on the Interior Ministry Dec. 12 that killed at least five people and put Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar in the hospital with a shoulder injury sustained when his office ceiling collapsed, a security source said.
The source said a betrayal within the Interior Ministry’s own protection service had made the Dec. 12 attack possible, which was executed using a booby-trapped car.
Syrian regime ‘nears End’
“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, Reuters reported. “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. Meanwhile, a senior minister in Iraq also said that al-Assad’s regime appears likely to fall within weeks, Agence France-Presse reported.
“There is a real acceleration regarding the international community focusing on Syria... real concern about the using of chemical weapons,” Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi said in Amman.