Moscow ready to sacrifice Assad, says opposition official

Moscow ready to sacrifice Assad, says opposition official
Moscow is discussing a post-Assad transitional government plan for Syria according to a member of the Syrian opposition's Parliamentary Affairs group.
3 min read
26 November, 2014
Sochi meeting is first between Putin and a top Syrian diplomat since 2011 [Getty]
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was hosted by Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday, as a Syrian opposition official claimed Moscow is ready to “sacrifice” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for a transitional government in Syria. 

Syrian opposition activist and member of the Syrian Parliamentary Affairs group, Mohammed Najjar, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Moscow has been working on a plan for a post-Assad transitional government with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

The Sochi meeting marks Putin’s first with a top Syrian diplomat since the start of the Syrian war in 2011. Earlier in November, the former head of the SNC, Moaz al-Khatib, met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and other officials in Moscow along with three current members of the SNC. 

Najjar said that the main focus of the talks was a transitional government. “Assad is not a red line any more," he said, referring to Moscow’s previously firm position that Assad could not be removed.

Assad is an old ally and Russia has supported him financially and militarily throughout the Syrian conflict.

But Najjar believes that Moscow is ready to compromise on its support for Assad to ease Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Those sanctions have precipitated a decline in the value of the ruble that, along with a global drop in oil prices, has led to huge financial loses and an economic downturn for Russia. 

Najjar said that Assad could now be “sacrificed” by Moscow “for the sake of a transitional government and a peaceful resolution in Syria". A transitional government would be “headed by someone who had not been involved in killing and torture”, he said, such as former Syrian foreign minister Farouq al-Sharaa.  

Analysts, however, say they do not see any imminent change in Moscow’s support for Assad. Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center at Tufts University Fletcher School, believes that the Russians continue to support Assad. “They were arming him throughout, even during the Geneva talks,” he said. 

In a statement ahead of the meetings in Sochi, the Russian foreign ministry said that, "the issue of mending the political process will assume an important place during the visit." 

"We intend to confirm our readiness to offer the 'Moscow Platform' for conducting the corresponding contacts between the Syrian government and a broad spectrum of social and political forces in Syrian society," the statement said. 

According to Najjar, the Russians are ready to encourage a peace process that excludes Assad. 

Some 200,000 people have been killed in fighting since the Syrian conflict started in 2011. Beginning as a peaceful uprising against Assad’s regime, the conflict has turned into a multi-sided civil war and attracted foreign Islamist fighters, including the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS). 

The US was criticized for not supporting the Syrian opposition against Assad early on. And airstrikes against the IS group by an international coalition of countries under Washington's leadership are seen by some commentators as potentially helping The Syrian president. 

While Washington and Moscow have so far disagreed on Assad, they both wish to destroy the IS group.