A dramatic Russian pullback from support of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria was reported Sunday by a prominent Arabic-language newspaper that said that some 100 senior Russian diplomatic and technical officials stationed in Damascus were flown back to Moscow last week with their families.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a shift in Russia’s policy became evident at a recent high-level international meeting of security officials held in a European city. The unpublicized meeting was held to discuss the threat of terrorist groups to international security.
The head of the Russian delegation, asked how Moscow viewed the possibility of a Syria “after Assad,” said that “what concerns Russia is to safeguard its strategic interests and secure the future of minorities” in Syria and to ensure that the country remains united. Upon hearing his statement, some delegates left the room to report this apparent retreat to their superiors. Until now, Russia has used its veto on the United Nations Security Council to block any action against the Assad regime.
Riyadh Tabara, a former Lebanese ambassador to the United States, told the newspaper that officials in both Moscow and Washington have begun exploring the possibility of a political solution in Syria that did not involve Assad. “Moscow [wants] guarantees that the regime that will replace Assad’s will safeguard [Russia’s] interests in the country,” said Tabara.