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Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s statement that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad could be losing control and could be overthrown by an increasingly powerful opposition is a clear indication that Moscow is acknowledging the realities on the ground in Syria, and it’s his country’s first official acknowledgment that Assad’s days may be numbered. It could even be interpreted as the beginning of a change of stance by Kremlin, a change which Syrian people and the international community had been vociferously demanding. On the contrary, if Russia still chooses to prop up Assad, it would only show the extent of its insensitivity to the plight of Syrians and to the huge progress the rebels have made. Moscow’s diplomatic shortsightedness and refusal to budge from its narrow interests has been one single factor responsible for the continuation of the fighting and all the chaos it has created.
Russia has supported Assad throughout the 21-month conflict, supplying weapons and giving political support by blocking the West’s demands for action through the United Nations Security Council. Moscow has also repeatedly rebuffed Arab pleas to rethink its position and is not known to have exerted real pressure on Assad to go for a negotiated solution or abdicate power to avoid further bloodshed.
It’s likely that Moscow now realizes Assad will not be able to recover from the setbacks he has suffered and would have to quit soon. It must have relied on Assad’s assurances that he would ultimately regain control by suppressing the revolution. With that possibility now receding, the minister has been forced to make a candid assessment.
More than 41,000 people are said to have been killed in the conflict, a number which is soaring every day. There are now clear signs that the struggle is in its final stage, with rebels making irreversible and fast progress.
Russia’s foreign policy faces the threat of abject failure if Assad exits, and it’s not yet late for Kremlin to rethink its policy. The revolution in Syria would have taken a different and far more desirable course if Russia hadn’t stuck to the policy of supporting Assad at any cost. A structured and planned revolution is far better than a chaotic one. Even if Assad is ousted in a few days or weeks, no one is sure about the outcome. The country can descend into sectarian strife and regressive forces kept under control could wreck its future. The opposition, which is united only for the sake of unity, can splinter and fight on the streets.
And the chunk of blame for all that would go terribly wrong would have to be shared by Moscow. It will be a new Syria where Moscow would be completely irrelevant, a fate which it is deliberating courting.