Russia would welcome any country’s offer of safe haven for Syrian President Bashar Assad, but has no plans to make one of its own, Moscow’s foreign minister said in the latest comments to suggest a growing distance between the two allies.
Sergey Lavrov’s remarks on Friday night were among the clearest signs yet that Russia could be preparing for a Syria without Assad, as rebel pressure on the embattled leader intensifies. Over the past four weeks, fighting has reached Damascus, his seat of power.
Up to now, Russia has vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Syria’s government to stop the violence that has killed more than 40,000 people over the past 21 months. While Russian leaders have given no concrete signs that stance has changed, their tone has shifted as rebels advance on the outskirts of the capital.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had distanced himself further than ever from the Syrian president, saying Russia does not seek to protect him.
On Friday, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that “it doesn’t invite Syrian president Assad here,” although he said other countries had asked Russia to convey their offer of safe passage to Assad.