Signs Russia’s support for Assad may be waning

Russia does not see keeping Bashar al-Assad in power as a matter of principle, the foreign ministry in Moscow said in comments that suggested a divergence of opinion with Iran, the Syrian president’s other main international backer.
Signs Russia’s support for Assad may be waning

Fuelling speculation of Russian-Iranian differences over Assad, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps suggested that Tehran may be more committed to him than Russia, saying Moscow “may not care if Assad stays in power as we do”.

While Russia and Iran have been Assad’s foremost foreign supporters during Syria’s four-year-old war, the US, its Gulf allies and Turkey have insisted the president must step down as part of any eventual peace deal.

Talks in Vienna on Friday among the main foreign players involved in diplomatic efforts on Syria failed to reach agreement on Assad.

Asked by a reporter yesterday if saving Assad was a matter of principle for Russia, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Absolutely not, we never said that.”

“We are not saying that Assad should leave or stay,” RIA news agency quoted her as saying.

However, another regime change in the Middle East could be a catastrophe that “could simply turn the whole region into a large black hole”, she added.

Zakharova said Russia had not changed its policy on Assad and that his fate should be decided by the Syrian people.

Her remarks appeared to suggest a difference of approach compared with that of Iran, which has sent forces to fight alongside Assad’s military and ordered in fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it controls.

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