A high ranking Russian minister has publicly admitted that the Syrian government might lose its civil war, but doesn't seem excited about the possibility of a future without Bashar al-Assad. In an interview with Russia Today, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said a rebel victory in Syria "is possible, but at an absolutely unacceptable price," suggesting for the first time that Russia might be seriously considering that very eventuality. He also added that the government "is progressively losing control" of their territory, hedging his bets while also admitting that "Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out."
The statements indicate a subtle, but important shift in Russia's thinking. They have long resisted the idea of regime change in Syria, but now have to confront the idea that it is a real threat. From a purely practical standpoint, that could mean trouble for the thousands of Russian citizens who live and work there, and are not likely to be treated well if the government falls. Also, if a rebel is victory is so unacceptable, perhaps they see that as an opportunity to help end the fighting now, and preserve some semblance of a regional partner in Damascus, rather than wait for the inevitable.
However, Bogdanov continued to blame other nations for making the situation worse and warning that Syria "will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of civilians. If such a price for the removal of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable." Never mind that tens of thousands have already lost their lives at the hand of Assad's forces, and many more will die if he wins as well.
The statements come on the same day that Syrian rebels have threatened to execute Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva, who was kidnapped in October. The rebels accuse Kochneva of being a spy for Russian intelligence services and have demanded $50 million for her release, setting the deadline for Thursday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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