Russia says Assad's prospects fading

Sun Jan 27, 2013 7:49pm EST
 
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By Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said the chances of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad staying in power were growing "smaller and smaller", as fighting on Sunday in southwestern Damascus shut a main highway from the capital.

Assad has long counted Moscow as an ally and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's remarks were the most vocal Russian statement yet that his days may now be numbered, although they come after predictions from France, an avowed enemy, and from neighboring Jordan that the Syrian president's downfall is not imminent.

"I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller," Medvedev said, according to the transcript of an interview in Russian with CNN that was released by his office.

"But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, nor any other country," said Medvedev, whose administration has criticized Western, Turkish and Gulf Arab support for Syria's rebels.

"The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers ... is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak."

After Egypt's veteran president Hosni Mubarak was toppled, Russia withheld its veto on a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing Western and Arab powers to provide military help to the rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in neighboring Libya.

Moscow has since accused the West of breaching sovereign rights and has vetoed U.N. action against Assad. Medvedev warned that removing Assad by force would mean "decades" of civil war.

Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.   Continued...

 
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad answers journalists after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier