Russian officials say opposition may win in Syria


Rebel fighters take part in a demonstration against the Syrian regime after the Friday prayer in the al-Fardos neighbourhood of Aleppo on December 7, 2012. Syrian opposition groups had agreed in Doha last month to sink their differences and form a single body in the hope of getting direct aid, including crucial anti-aircraft weapons, to combat President Assad.


Odd Andersen

Russia, Syria's most important ally, said for the first time on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad is losing ground and may fall to opposition forces. 

Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin's special envoy for Middle East affairs, said the Syrian government was "losing control of more and more territory," reports Reuters.

"One must look the facts in the face," Russia's state-run RIA quoted Bogdanov as saying. "Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out."

Bogdanov also said Moscow was preparing to evacuate Russian citizens from Syria if necessary. 

The comments came as rebels advanced even further into terrority in north Syria, expanding their control outside of Damascus, reports the Wall Street Journal.  

State news agencies reported that a bomb blast near a school in a Damascus suburb killed 16 people on Thursday. Half of them were women and children.

The BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg called the comments "significant" and said that if President Assad is ousted, the Russians may struggle to retain influence in the region.

"Russia has been a firm supporter of President Assad, providing the Syrian government with political and military support; it has also protected the Syrian leader at the UN, by vetoing Security Council resolutions that would have increased the pressure on the Syrian president." - Steve Rosenberg, BBC.

On Wednesday, a group of countries calling themselves "Friends of Syria" officially recognized the Syrian opposition, lending credibility to those fighting against the Assad government. 

Al Jazeera reports that a draft declaration states that the members were prepared to recognise the Syrian National Coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people".

It also called on President Asad to "stand aside" in order to allow "a sustainable political transition" process.

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told GlobalPost that the declaration was a "huge victory" for the Syrian opposition and may encourage international aid to the groups fighting against the Syrian government.

"It is probably an encouragement to the British and the French who were talking in the last week or so of the possibility of arms deliveries. Having dozens and dozens of countries now officially recognize this group is likely to make it less controversial in Paris and London to do something more," said Abrams. 

Officials in Moscow still maintain that outsting Assad would make things worse in the region and are calling for a political solution. 

"The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people," Bogdanov told the Wall Street Journal. "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."