Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists travelling with him on a flight to Moscow from a EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Saturday he believed Western powers had no desire to intervene in the Syrian conflict.
“I have a feeling that no one has any appetite for external intervention,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
“I even have the feeling that they are praying for Russia and China to continue blocking permission for external intervention. Because if there is such a decision, they will have to act, and no one is ready to act,” he said.
Lavrov reiterated Russia’s opposition to any intervention, citing UN Security Council resolutions that NATO used to justify military strikes in Libya.
“We are convinced that the UN Security Council must not take any more ambiguous decisions, after our partners behaved so abominably over the resolution on Libya,” he said.
Russia is one of Syrian regime’s last major allies and along with China has shielded President Bashar al-Assad from UN sanctions aimed at punishing him for his use of heavy force against his armed resistance.
Moscow’s position has frustrated Western attempts to end the 21 months of bloodshed by forcing Assad from power. The West has also condemned Moscow’s continued military ties with Damascus, its traditional ally from the former Soviet era.
Assad losing control
For the first time, Russia said on Dec 13 that President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, dramatically shifting the diplomatic landscape at a time of enormous momentum for the opposition.
While Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov didn’t issue any immediate signal that Russia could change its stance and stop blocking international sanctions on Assad’s regime, his remarks will likely be seen as a betrayal in Damascus and could persuade many Syrians to shift their loyalties and abandon support for the government.
It could also further strengthen the hand of the rebels, who have made some significant gains in their offensive recently, capturing two major military bases and mounting a serious challenge to Assad’s seat of power, Damascus.
“We must look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory,” Bogdanov, the Foreign Ministry’s pointman on Syria, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body, the Public Chamber. “An opposition victory can’t be excluded.”
Bogdanov’s statement marks a clear attempt by the Kremlin to begin positioning itself for Assad’s eventual defeat. He said that Russia is prepared to evacuate thousands of its citizens from Syria, although he didn’t say when that might happen.
At the same time, Bogdanov reaffirmed Russia’s call for a compromise, saying it would take the opposition a long time to defeat the regime and Syria would suffer heavy casualties.
“The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “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.”