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Russia envoy: Assad losing Syria control

Moscow, Dec. 13: Deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s top envoy for Syria, said today that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was losing control of the country to rebel forces.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian Opposition,” he said — the clearest indication to date that Russia believes Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could be headed for defeat.

“We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory,” said Bogdanov, in remarks to Russia’s Public Chamber that were carried by Russian wire services.

Bogdanov also said that Russia is preparing to evacuate its citizens — a complex task, since for decades, Russian women have married Syrian men sent to study in Russia and returned home with them to raise families.

It was the first time an official at Bogdanov’s level had announced plans for an evacuation and it sent a message to Damascus that Russia no longer holds out hope that the government can prevail.

Russia is eager to protect its strategic interests in Syria, including a naval facility at the port of Tartus, and has been meeting frequently with Opposition delegations, presumably laying the groundwork for a possible transition.

In his remarks to the Public Chamber, a Kremlin advisory group, Bogdanov said he believed that half the Russian citizens living in Syria support the rebels. “Moreover, some of the people coming here as part of Opposition coalitions have Russian passports,” he said.

Russia has cast its stance on Syria as a principled stand against western-led intervention — a passionate topic for President Vladimir V. Putin, who feels Russia was deceived into supporting a no-fly zone in Libya that ultimately led to a military campaign that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi.

 
 
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