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Terrorism & Security

Russia insists it stands by Syria's Assad, despite earlier comments (+video)

The Russian deputy foreign minister said yesterday that the Syrian regime might fall – a bold declaration because Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

By Staff writer / December 14, 2012

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires at Syrian Army positions in Tal Sheer village, north of Aleppo province, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.

Manu Brabo/AP

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Having been an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia is now watching the leader lose ground to the rebels. PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff talks to Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, who says that while Russia is not supporting Assad, it remains strong in its rejection of outside military intervention in Syria.

Russia today denied that it had changed its policy towards the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a day after a high-ranking Russian official admitted publicly for the first time that the Syrian government may fall.

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said today that Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in comments widely published yesterday that acknowledged the possible victory of Syria's rebels, was only reiterating Russia's official position of supporting a political end to the conflict, reports RIA Novosti.

...[O]n Friday Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was dismissive [of reports that Russia was backing away from Assad]. “I saw the US State Department spokeswoman citing [Bodganov] and praising how Moscow has finally woken up and is changing its position,” he said.

“But we never slept. And we never changed our position, and will not do so in the future,” Lukashevich said at a press briefing in Moscow.

RIA Novosti writes that the ministry said Mr. Bogdanov "has not made any specific statements for the press on Syria in recent days," suggesting that his statements were not intended to reflect Russian policy.

Russia has been a staunch supporter of Assad's since the conflict began last year, and before yesterday had not countenanced the possibility of his fall. Bogdanov's comments -- made at a Kremlin hearing in which he addressed the ongoing conflict in Syria and its possible outcome, reports Reuters – thus marked what was seen as a significant shift.

"An opposition victory can't be excluded, unfortunately, but it's necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body. ...

Bogdanov also 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 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 ouster of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable."

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