U.S. diplomats told Reuters that the Russian government would accept a regime change in Syria that results in dictator Bashar al-Assad’s stepping down.
“What you’ve got is a move that will end up with Assad going,” explained an anonymous diplomat. “And the Russians have got to the point privately where they accept that Assad will have gone by the end of this transition, they’re just not prepared to say that publicly.”
Actually, the Kremlin has mentioned before that Assad staying in power is not required to maintain peace in the war-torn country. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told radio stations in November that the government “never said” it is “crucial” for Assad to remain in power.
“What we did say is a regime change in Syria could become a local or even regional catastrophe,” she explained, while insisting “only the Syrian people can decide the president’s fate.”
In November, The Times of Israel reported that Putin is ready to push Assad aside to end the civil war. According to the publication, “senior Israeli officials” claim Putin told Assad during a visit in October that “he would have to abdicate his presidential powers and make way for a temporary government.” He listed other actions, as well:
Putin also demanded that Assad and his associates enter negotiations with moderate elements in Syria toward instituting a temporary government that would stay in place for about a year and a half – until general elections could be held, the officials say. Otherwise, Putin reportedly warned, Russia would withdraw its support from Assad.
Putin invited Assad to Moscow, who then “expressed gratitude” towards the Kremlin for its support.
“First of all I wanted to express my huge gratitude to the whole leadership of the Russian Federation for the help they are giving Syria,” he said. “If it was not for your actions and your decisions the terrorism which is spreading in the region would have swallowed up a much greater area and spread over an even greater territory.”
The White House criticized Moscow’s “red carpet welcome,” which was Assad’s first visit out of Syria since the civil war started in 2011.
“We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria,” declared White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu joked that he wanted Assad to stay in Moscow forever so “a real transition process could begin.”
“We think the Syrian government has no legitimacy left and our thoughts on this subject have not changed. … There must be a transition in Syria which secures Assad’s departure,” Davutoğlu said.