Russia Open to Syria Transition in Shift Away From Assad

By Flavia Krause-Jackson
Business Week

As Syria slides toward civil war, Russia is signaling that it no longer views President Bashar al- Assad’s position as tenable and is working with the U.S. to seek an orderly transition.

A U.S. delegation headed by Fred Hof, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Syria, is scheduled to meet with Russian counterparts June 8 in Moscow. They will try to forge a common approach to moving Assad aside — or even out of the country — with a goal of replacing him with someone acceptable to both sides in the conflict, according to two U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Under newly elected President Vladimir Putin, an evolution from support for Russia’s main Mideast ally could break a diplomatic deadlock. Russia’s threatened veto in the United Nation’s Security Council has hobbled 15 months of international efforts to pressure the Assad government with sanctions and other measures as the conflict deteriorated from peaceful protests into an armed conflict with sectarian undercurrents.

‘No Chance’

“In Moscow, they understand now that there is no chance of maintaining the status quo, they are looking at the question of a change of regime,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. “The only thing that Russia can do is to try and keep some influence in Syria. A managed change of regime is the only option now.”

While Russia for the first time sees a change of government in Syria as possible via a series of steps, it remains adamant that the outcome not be imposed from outside, according to a Russian official not authorized to speak publicly on this matter.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said yesterday that his country has never insisted on Assad staying in power and a decision on his future must be taken by the Syrians themselves, state-run Rossiya 24 television said on its website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia and China are seeking to press the Syrian opposition to support peace efforts by UN envoy Kofi Annan and proposed a meeting of countries that have influence over the rebels.

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