Moscow changing tack on relationship with Assad

Syrian opposition sources say Russian planes have not delivered military supplies to Syria for last three months, U-turn partly driven by desire to boost economic ties with Gulf states.

In this February 7, 2012 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (L) meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

In this February 7, 2012 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (L) meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

(UK) (June 1) — Clear signs are emerging of a dramatic U-turn in Russia’s policy toward the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, with Moscow even beginning to consider a “future without Assad” for the country, sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Moscow, along with Tehran, is one of the biggest supporters of the Assad regime, but the sources say there has been a recent change in comments from Russian officials as well as other, more substantive, changes indicating a major shift in Russia’s relationship with the Syrian government.

Western diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that during a recent and unpublicized high-level meeting of security officials aimed at tackling the threat of terrorist groups to international security, the representative of the Russian delegation was asked a question regarding Moscow’s view of the possibility of a Syria “after Assad.”

According to the sources, who have requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, the representative said that “what concerns Russia is to safeguard its strategic interests and secure the future of minorities” in Syria, as well as ensuring the country remained united.

The sources said delegates at the meeting, which took place in a European city the sources declined to name, were shocked by the admission, which would represent the first of its kind from a Russian official. Russia has frequently used its UN Security Council veto to block any international action against the Syrian president and his regime.

The sources added that upon hearing the comments from the Russian representative, some of the other delegates immediately left the room in order to telephone their superiors and inform them of what they had just heard.

Meanwhile, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, sources from the Syrian opposition said Moscow had also recently transferred around 100 senior diplomatic and technical officials working in Syria back to Russia.

Many of them were working in the Damascus operations center providing support to Syrian security and military officials, alongside their Iranian counterparts and members of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

The sources, who requested anonymity in order to protect their identities, said the Russians left for Moscow on a plane via the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, accompanied by their families.

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