Moscow Hints at Break with Assad

Article Summary
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made statements that would appear to distance his government from Bashar al-Assad. While it is too early to speculate on the causes of this abrupt shift in Moscow’s position, it could break the impasse at the Security Council and pave the way for a resolution of the crisis, suggests Rajeh Khoury.

Is there an improvement in the Russian [stance, which has so far] prevented the Security Council from [resolving] the Syrian crisis?

Raising this question seems necessary in light of the statement made by Sergei Lavrov, which was in direct contradiction of the support which has been offered by Moscow to President Bashar al-Assad. While the focus of attention was on Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem and Dr. Nabil el-Arabi, who were briefing the Security Council on the "Arab initiative,” Lavrov's statement arrived from Australia and it literally stated as follows: "We never said that the survival of Assad was a precondition for solving the [Syrian] crisis; Rather, we said that the solution must [come from] Syria!”

[Surprisingly enough], when he was asked why Moscow is providing Assad with unconditional support, he said, "We are neither Assad's friends, nor his allies.”

However, [everyone knows] that three weeks ago, Moscow told the regional and international capitals that "Assad should remain in power before we negotiate other details." This reflects the Iranian position which was reported to the Muslim Brotherhood and announced by Mohammad Tayfur. [The Iranian proposal] called for the survival of Assad provided that the Muslim Brotherhood forms a government, but it was rejected [by the Assad government].

Since when did Moscow stop supporting Assad and regarding him as a friend and ally? What has happened and is still happening behind the scenes, and what secret and diplomatic deals have been concluded [with Russia, to convince it to change its stance]? What are the consequences of such an important transformation? What are the guarantees or [offers] that Moscow obtained? To what problem, region or crisis are [these guarantees] related?

It is important to ask these questions, especially considering that Lavrov’s statement [contradicts] the Russian [proposal] to hold talks between Assad and the opposition in Moscow - a proposal which has been rejected by the Syrian National Council.

In all seriousness, what happened? Ten days ago, Jeffrey Feltman made ​​a generous offer to his counterpart, Mikhail Bogdanov, provided that Moscow abandons Assad. [Bogdanov] called Vladimir Putin and the answer was: "Bashar al-Assad is a red line. If you want a [different president], how about Brigadier Maher al-Assad?”

It is still too early to determine what happened. However, there is no doubt that Lavrov's statement [is welcome] at the Security Council. This can lead to a political solution through some of the provisions [contained] in the Russian and Moroccan draft resolutions, given that the Arab League has announced its rejection of a military intervention in Syria, and Russia is slowly coming to the conclusion that a great state cannot keep [waffling] as the Syrian [death] toll continues to mount.

This may be the reason Washington [wants] to hold in-depth negotiations with the Russians, knowing that [US State Department Spokesman] Mark Toner said that [the United States] supports the Arab League's initiative and holds the Assad regime to account.

Found in: unsc, syrian crisis, syrian-russian relations, syrian, russian involvement in syrian crisis, russian foreign policy, russian, moscow, lavrov

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