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Russia says it won't offer asylum to Syria's Assad

But that doesn't mean that President-elect Vladimir Putin will soften Russia's opposition to intervention in Syria, as the US had hoped.

By Staff writer / March 8, 2012

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) meets Alla Alexandrovsaya, chairwoman of the Syrian-Ukrainian Friendship Committee in the Ukrainian Parliament, in Damascus March 6.

SANA/REUTERS

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As the US and its allies launched fresh efforts to persuade Russia to back international action against Syria, Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Moscow had no intention of providing asylum for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he were forced out.

Mr. Putin's comments marked a rare lack of Russian support for the Syrian leader, a long-time ally and arms trading partner. But it does not seem to indicate a softening of Russia’s opposition to intervention in Syria, where at least 7,500 have died as the uprising approaches its one-year anniversary.

“We aren’t even discussing the issue,” Mr. Putin told Russian news agencies, according to the Boston Globe. Last week he criticized the West for not insisting that the Syrian opposition, not just government troops, pull out of besieged areas.

The Washington Post reports that Obama administration officials said earlier this week that with Putin’s victory in March 4 elections, they intended to relaunch efforts to persuade Russia to cooperate with the international community and take stronger action against Syria. Russia, which has significant financial stakes in Assad's survival and an inherent skepticism about revolutions, has assiduously resisted foreign intervention.

“It is something that we expect to take up virtually immediately with the Russian side,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

She suggested that Russia, which has vetoed two U.N. resolutions on Syria, had been “preoccupied” with its presidential election. In what appeared to be a coordinated message, British and French officials said much the same thing.

Putin has given no indication that the election victory will have any effect on Russia’s stance on intervention, according to the Post.

But the US still sees Russia as having the potential to play a critical part in ending the violence in Syria. That was evident in Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s comments yesterday as he discussed US options, reported by Russian news outlet RIA Novosti.

“There's no question in my mind that Russia could play a very significant role in putting pressure on Assad. They've got a port there; they have influence there; they have dealings there,” he said.

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