Russia has been Syria's Bashar al-Assad's staunchest ally during it's long war against his citizens, but now they're even trying to distance themselves from the embattled leader.
Russia's foreign minister said Russia wouldn't welcome Assad if he were to step down and look to Russia for safe haven. "If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!" Sergei Lavrov told reporters. "We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: "Thank God, the carnage is over! If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain." Translation: you can have 'em, we don't want 'em.
This comes only a few days after Russia's President Vladimir Putin seemed to publicly distance himself from Assad for the first time when he said, "We are not concerned about the fate of Assad's regime." He went on to say Russia's concern is stabilizing the country so it doesn't devolve into an endless civil war, even if Assad is removed from office.
Which straw broke the camel's back is unclear. Your guess is as good as ours. It could be the (possible) regime supporters who kidnapped NBC's Richard Engel, or Assad's use of SCUD missiles, or the news that they prepped their chemical weapons, or the footage of the bombing of a playground full of children. Like we said, your guess it as good as ours. Maybe he was really impressed with the rebels' tank powered by a Playstation controller.
Where Assad goes from here is also unclear. In the very immediate future he has to deal with the U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi coming to Damascus for negotiations, according to Reuters. And the AP reports Brahmimi also has a trip to Moscow scheduled before year's end, though it's unclear which country he's visiting first. With Putin and Russia abandoning him, Assad seemingly doesn't have very much leverage in these talks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.