Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is losing control over Syria and an opposition victory cannot be ruled out, Russian deputy Mikhail Bogdanov said on Thursday, according to the state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
Crediting the significant gains by the rebels to an increasing support of external powers, Bogdanov said, "You need to look the facts in the eyes -- the government regime is losing more and more control over a large part of the country's territory.”
Although Russia has shielded Assad from international sanctions and continues to deliver weapons to the regime, Thursday’s remark is the first acknowledgement by a Russian official that the Syrian strongman could lose a bloody civil war.
The Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs added that Russia is working on plans to evacuate its citizens from the embattled country if necessary.
While Bogdanov didn’t signal Moscow’s readiness to edge closer to the West and approve sanctions against Assad’s regime, the statement appears to reflect that Moscow has begun positioning itself for his imminent defeat. "The battle for Damascus is about to begin and this battle could change the rules of the game," he said.
Ensuing Bogdanov’s comments, Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, acknowledged the weakening of Assad’s hold on power and urged the Syrian president to take steps towards a political transition.
"I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse ... it is only a question of time," Rasmussen said, adding that Assad should "initiate a process that leads to the accommodation of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."