Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has committed 'grave, perhaps fatal error' and that chances of him retaining power are getting "smaller and smaller" every day.
Medvedev made the statements in an interview with CNN. His remarks were the most vocal Russian statement that Assad's days could be numbered. But he reiterated calls for talks between the government and its foes and repeated Moscow's position that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces.
Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.
Medvedev added that the Syrian president should have brought the opposition to the negotiating table a long time ago, claiming this was his mistake and this is what could lead to his fate.
But the Russian prime minister reiterated calls for talks between the government and its foes along with Moscow's position that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces.
“The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers ... is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like (the late former Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like (Egypt's) Hosni Mubarak.”
Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into a bloody sectarian civil war.
In the past, Moscow has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed, which according to the United Nations has killed more than 60,000 people.
However, Syria’s staunch ally also distanced itself from Assad after it said it’s not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels clashed with forces loyal to the president in southwest Damascus on Sunday, forcing the closure of the main highway to the southern town of Deraa, activists said.
The fighting came as the United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited the country ahead of a U.N. aid conference which aims to raise $1.5 billion for millions of people made homeless, hungry and vulnerable.
In Damascus, the two sides fought around a railway station in the southwestern district of Qadam. Syrian media did not comment on the fighting and restrictions on independent media make it difficult to verify reports from activists.
Furthermore, the Syrian observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group which monitors the violence in Syria, said jets and army artillery also struck targets in rebel strongholds to the east and south of the capital after fierce clashes there.