Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday there was “no possibility” of persuading President Bashar Assad to leave Syria, leaving little hope for a breakthrough in the standoff. Sergei Lavrov also said opposition leaders’ insistence on Assad’s departure as a precondition for peace talks would come at the cost of “more and more lives of Syrian citizens” in a conflict that has already killed tens of thousands.
“It’s impossible to change his position,” Lavrov said.
He said Assad had told a top United Nations envoy that he won’t quit before his term ends in 2014.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to Assad recaptured a town near Homs in western Syria after days of heavy fighting.
Russia’s new tone
There have been evident changes in the long standoff over Syria in recent weeks, as Russia acknowledged that government forces were losing territory and distanced itself from Assad. In televised remarks, President Vladimir Putin said that Russian leaders “are not preoccupied by the fate of Assad’s regime” and that after 40 years of rule by one family, “undoubtedly there is a call for change.”
Russia has set the stage for forward momentum, announcing a gathering in mid-January among the United States, Russia and Brahimi to discuss Syria. Moscow may see these talks as a chance to rebuild its prestige in the Arab world.
But Lavrov told Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria, on Saturday that Russia “isn’t in the business of regime change.”
Moscow has watched the recent Arab uprisings with mounting worry, arguing that the West was unleashing dangerous turbulence by supporting popular rebellions, and it has vehemently opposed any international intervention as a matter of principle.