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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.

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Bogdanov's comments were taken by many as a sign of the Kremlin's weakening support for Assad. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she "commend[ed] the Russian Government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered."

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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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But Andrew Weiss, formerly of the US state and defense departments, wrote in a commentary for Foreign Policy that it was more important to "Watch what the Kremlin does, not what it says." Mr. Weiss argues that there has been little evidence that Russia is backing away from Assad.

Indeed, the evidence runs in the opposite direction. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said, "We are not conducting any negotiations on the fate of Assad. ... All attempts to portray things differently are unscrupulous, even for diplomats of those countries which are known to try to distort the facts in their favor." Other official spokesmen never miss an opportunity to condemn the militarization of the conflict, foreign interference in Syria's domestic affairs, and even NATO's plan to provide Patriot missiles to Turkey to help guard its airspace against Syrian incursions. And both Time magazine and ProPublica have reported recently on Syrian skullduggery to arrange continued imports of Russian attack helicopters and Russian-printed Syrian banknotes, which are helping keep the shaky Syrian economy afloat.

And the Guardian notes that while Assad may be on the back foot, he is still far from being toppled, even if Russia is starting to withdraw its support.

"Assad's situation is very difficult," said one senior Arab source in the region. "But he has a lot of strength. He is still getting arms and finance from Iran and his military capability is still robust." ...

What appears to have undergone a subtle change in recent weeks is the attitude of Russia and Iran. According to an observer closely familiar with recent high level diplomatic exchanges over Syria, Russia is said to be moving gradually towards accepting there may need to be a third alternative to the scenarios in which either Assad survives or is replaced by an unknown quantity involving jihadist groups.

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