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Russia Denies Its Syria Position Has Changed

December 14, 2012
by RFE/RL

Russia has denied that one of its top diplomats said President Bashar al-Assad is losing control of Syria.

The denial comes as NATO countries moved closer to deploying Patriot missiles and hundreds of troops along Turkey's border with Syria.

Russian news agencies quoted Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister and the Kremlin's special envoy for Middle East affairs, as conceding on December 13 that Syria's government was 'progressively losing control' and that the victory of the opposition "cannot be excluded."

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said on December 14 that Bogdanov was only citing the stance of the Syrian opposition and its foreign backers, insisting that Moscow has not changed policy on Syria.

'I want to say that we were never asleep. We haven't changed our position. And we will not change it,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow.

Bogdanov's reported assessment appeared to signal a shift in Moscow's diplomatic stance.

Washington credited Russia with 'finally waking up to the reality."

Rebel political leader Mouaz al-Khatib said he believed Moscow was looking for ways out of its support for a lost cause.

Russia, a close ally of Assad since the uprising began in March 2011, has blocked UN efforts to press Assad to step aside and has supplied his regime with arms.

Also on December 14, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order to send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 troops to operate them to NATO-member Turkey.

Panetta signed the order shortly before arriving on an unannounced visit to Turkey to meet U.S. troops stationed at the Incirlik air base.

'We announced this morning that we are deploying two Patriot batteries here to Turkey along with the troops that are necessary to man those batteries so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense that they very well need in dealing with threats that come out of Syria,' Panetta told U.S. troops.

In Germany, the lower house of the parliament, the Bundestag, on December 14 backed sending up to 400 German soldiers and two Patriot missile batteries to southern Turkey.

The Netherlands is also to provide two batteries of the U.S.-built air-defense systems.

The Patriot missiles will be placed under NATO's command and are scheduled to be operational by the end of January.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, BBC, and mid.ru

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/us-assad-russia-syria/24798261.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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