Russia faces facts on Assad outcome
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, left, was in Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Photo: AP
MOSCOW: Syria's key ally Russia has admitted the Assad regime is losing the ground war, as rebels said they were occupying more territory and besieging government troops across the country.
Russia's deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, said the regime faced possible defeat to the rebels, adding with unusual candour: ''One must look facts in the face.''
Russia has given Bashar al-Assad unstinting diplomatic and military support, but Mr Bogdanov said: ''The tendency is that the regime and government of Syria is losing more and more control, as well as more and more territory. Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.''
Rebels said they believed the 21-month conflict had reached a decisive point, with Mr Assad's military machine no longer capable of rolling them back.
The US welcomed Russia's apparent change of emphasis. ''We want to commend the Russian government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime's days are numbered,'' the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said.
''I think the question now is, will the Russian government join those of us in the international community who are working with the opposition to try to have a smooth democratic transition?''
The US has called on all nations with influence in Syria to try to persuade Mr Assad to quit and allow a political transition to begin. ''Our concern is that if we do not all use our influence with those in Syria, we will have a further ripping of the fabric of the country,'' Ms Nuland said.
On Wednesday, Nato's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also said he thought the regime was ''approaching collapse'' and it was only a question of time before the Assad government imploded.
The Syrian war remains an asymmetric one. The rebels are short of ammunition and have mainly light weapons; the government has Scud missiles - fired for the first time this week at rebels in Aleppo - as well as Sukhoi jets and attack helicopters. It also has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons - a growing Western concern.
Over the past three months the rebels have acquired fresh momentum and are now turning captured weapons on the regime.
Guardian News & Media, Agence France-Presse