Russia denies its diplomat talked of Assad's fall

Associated Press
FILE - In this Tuesday, April 10, 2012 file pool photo, from left: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meet in Moscow. Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, that President Bashar Assad is losing control over Syria and his opponents may win, the first acknowledgement by Assad's main ally that he faces a likely defeat.  (AP Photo, pool, file)
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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday denied that a top diplomat said Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country, a statement that had been interpreted as signaling a shift in Russia's assessment of the situation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the ministry's point man on Syria, was quoted by two state-owned Russian news agencies on Thursday as saying that "there is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," adding that "an opposition victory can't be excluded."

But the Russian foreign ministry on Friday insisted in a statement that Bogdanov "has not made any statements or special interviews recently" on Syria but was simply citing the stance of the Syrian opposition while giving a speech.

The foreign ministry's denial comes about 22 hours after the diplomat's comments were made public.

Russia has joined with China at the United Nations Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad's regime over its bloody crackdown on the uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow also has continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons despite strong international protests.

Bogdanov's comments were quoted verbatim by state-owned Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and ITAR-Tass. The foreign ministry on Thursday turned down the AP's interview request.

The U.S. later on Thursday commended Russia for "waking up to the reality" by acknowledging the regime's impending fall.

Analysts have viewed Bogdanov's statement as Russia's attempt to begin positioning itself for Assad's eventual defeat.

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