Is Russia finally giving up on Assad? It certainly seems like it. The BBC has the story:
[Russian Deputy Foreign Minister] Mr Bogdanov said on Thursday: “Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition.”
Mr Bogdanov repeated Russia’s call for dialogue between the two sides, predicting that the fighting would grow more intense.
“If such a price for ousting the president seems acceptable to you, then what can we do? We consider it unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Bogdanov said plans were being drawn up for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens.
This is huge. After years and years of providing generous support and political cover to the Assad regime, Russia is finally admitting that it simply can’t do much to keep its close ally in power. Clearly, this is a bad omen for Assad, but Russia’s resignation here highlights just how impotent the ex-superpower remains in a part of the world that is of vital interest to it. Beyond its leverage on the Security Council, Russia simply lacks the ability to influence events on the ground in Syria.
Rest assured, this lesson will not be lost on other countries in the region. And from the Kremlin we should expect an attempt to distract attention abroad and at home from the spectacle of Russian impotence. For President Putin, whose appeal and prestige at home has always been tied to perceptions that he has been leading Russia back to the center of world politics, the failure in Syria is a domestic as well as a foreign policy setback.