Russia positions itself for fall of Syrian regime

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm •  Published: December 13, 2012
Advertisement
;

Bogdanov's remarks will likely be seen in Damascus as a betrayal of longstanding ties. There was no immediate reaction from the Syrian regime.

Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist based in a rebel-held neighborhood of Homs in central Syria, said he is encouraged by Bogdanov's comments because Russia is in a position to know about the strength of Assad's forces.

"The Russians know his capabilities and his military force. Russia knows what warplanes and what weapons he has," Abu Bilal said via Skype. "The Free Syrian Army is on the verge of strangling Damascus, and this indicates that the regime is reaching an end," he added, referring to the main rebel fighting force.

Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, agrees the Russian stance may reflect new information about the situation on the ground.

"A public statement like that appears to indicate that the balance is shifting," he said.

Analysts say that by backing Damascus, Russia has lost any chance of holding any influence in a post-Assad Syria. Now, Lukyanov says, the Kremlin wants to distance itself from the crisis even though Moscow believes the violence will continue after Assad's fall.

"If Syria plunges deeper into violence after the regime's fall, Russia would say: We have warned you that it would happen."

Meanwhile, violence was escalating in and around the capital.

Syrian state TV said that a car bomb went off Thursday in Jdeidet Artouz, a suburb southwest of Damascus, killing eight people.

In an online video that activists said showed the bomb's aftermath, dozens of people scrambled over piles of rubble looking for survivors. When two men dragging a woman away accidentally lifted her shirt, someone yelled to them, "Cover her! Cover her!" Other men pulled a wounded man from the rubble, his face covered in blood and his clothes gray with dust.

A bomb near a school in the Damascus suburb of Qatana killed 16 people, at least half of them women and children, the state news agency SANA reported.

The blasts were the latest in a string of similar bombings in and around Damascus that have killed dozens of people in the last two days, state media said.

The government blames the bombings on terrorists, the term it uses to refer to rebel fighters. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombs, some have targeted government buildings and killed officials, suggesting that rebels who don't have the firepower to engage Assad's elite forces in the capital are resorting to guerrilla measures.

Similar attacks hit four sites Wednesday in and around Damascus. Three bombs collapsed walls of the Interior Ministry building, killing at least five people. One of the dead was a parliament member, Abdullah Qairouz, SANA reported.

Assigning responsibility for the blasts remains difficult because rebels tend to blame attacks that kill civilians on the regime without providing evidence, while competing groups often claim successful operations.

The conflict began amid the Arab Spring in March 2011 as peaceful protests against the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for four decades. But a ferocious crackdown on demonstrators led many to take up arms against the government, and the uprising soon transformed into a civil war.

As the death toll mounted, Assad, a 47-year-old eye doctor by training, has become a global pariah. Russia, China and Iran are among his last remaining allies.

On Thursday, Bogdanov warned that it would take the opposition a long time to defeat the regime and said 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."

___

AP writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Ben Hubbard and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.