MOSCOW: Russia expressed fear on Tuesday that the conflict in Syria between President Bashar Al Assad and rebel forces that began nearly two years ago could be protracted with no clear outcome.
“You know at first the forecasts were two to three months, four, and it is already two years,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
“So the situation can develop in different ways. I think it could become protracted in nature.” Russia has come under repeated pressure from the West to call on the Syrian leader to quit but has insisted it is up to the Syrian people to decide their future.
Bogdanov also said the Russian foreign ministry wanted to have more contact with various Syrian opposition groups as it seeks to help broker a solution to the conflict.
“A lot of opposition leaders are in Paris (and) Istanbul. Others are in other cities, in Geneva,” Bogdanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“So we do not rule out that in the near future there will be contacts even with several new opposition groups, with those we have not been in touch with yet.”
He added that one such opposition group “wanted to have dialogue with us.”
Separately, on Tuesday, the Russian authorities helped up to 150 of their citizens escape Syria via neighbouring Lebanon, a diplomat said, insisting the airlift was not the start of an operation to evacuate Russians from the war-torn country.
“There are thousands of Russian citizens in Syria. The issue is that the Russian airline is no longer flying to Damascus, so we are helping some 100, maximum 150 people to leave Syria via Beirut, which is very close,” the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.
“We are simply helping people who have gone to the Russian consulate in Damascus requesting assistance.”
The diplomat downplayed earlier reports that Moscow was evacuating its citizens from Syria.
The Russian announcement came as anti-government activists reported violence around the country, including air raids on the town of Beit Sahm near Damascus International Airport, just south of the capital.