Russian officials hurried to tamp down a global flurry of speculation Friday after a top diplomat said Syrian rebels might succeed in their push to oust President Bashar Assad, insisting that Moscow's stand in support of the embattled Syrian leader was unchanged.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov remarked Thursday that “an opposition victory can’t be excluded,” the first such admission from the Kremlin, which has stood firmly by Assad against international pressure as he faces a bloody uprising that has endured for 21 months.
Though experts had said Russia was still unlikely to abandon Assad, the remarks set off speculation that Russia might be shifting its stance as it prepared for the defeat of its longtime ally.
The U.S. State Department commended the Russian government “for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered.”
Russia denied having done so.
“We did not change our position and are not going to change,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Friday.
Lukashevich said in a statement that the comment had been taken out of context and Bogdanov was actually explaining the view of the Syrian opposition. In that context, he “again confirmed Russia's principled stance that a political settlement in Syria has no alternative,” the statement said.
Even before the Friday denial, analysts said Russia did not appear to be altering its stand on the Syrian conflict. The country has decried Western recognition of an opposition coalition recently formed in Qatar and has called for peace negotiations that could include Assad.
Syria's deputy prime minister visited Moscow on Friday and echoed the insistence of Russian officials that nothing had shifted.
“There have been no changes in Russia's position,” the Associated Press reported Qadri Jamil as saying. “Russia stands for dialogue and against foreign interference.”
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