MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin on Thursday further distanced his government from Syria’s leader, saying Russia would not back Bashar Assad’s regime “at any price” and recognized the need for a change in the Middle Eastern nation.
“We are not concerned with the fate of Assad’s regime,” Putin said during his annual news conference in Moscow. “We understand what is going on, given that the [Assad] family has been in power for 40 years and that the need of change is certainly on the agenda.”
Putin said the Kremlin’s “position is not to back Assad and his regime in power at any price.” However, he said that the Syrian conflict needed to be resolved by negotiation.
“I think agreements based on a military victory are out of place here and cannot be effective,” Putin said, adding: “What will happen there primarily depends on the Syrian people themselves.”
Russia, along with Iran, has been one of the Assad government’s few dependable international allies. However, there has been a change of tone in recent comments from Moscow.
On Dec. 13, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the rebels might succeed in ousting Assad, a public acknowledgment that surprised international observers. The Russian government sought to backtrack the next day, insisting the diplomat was merely characterizing the views of Syrian rebels, not stating Moscow’s position.
The changing tone in Moscow reflects frustration on the part of the Kremlin, said one analyst.
“Obviously the Kremlin tried to assert its influence recently to compel Assad make some compromises in his unwavering stand based on violence and military pressure and even start some negotiations and make some other steps toward reconciliation, but to no avail,” said Andrei Kortunov, president of New Eurasia Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank, in an interview Wednesday.
“That certainly rubbed Putin the wrong way, and the Russian leader is having a hard time hiding his irritation with Assad,” Korutnov said.
"The time is working against Assad, and Moscow increasingly understands that the longer the civil war goes the less chances Assad has to come out victorious,” Kortunov added. “The Kremlin’s rhetoric we heard today in regard to Assad was unthinkable just a few months ago.”