Report: Russia withdraws support from Assad as regime disintegrates
Moscow removes senior military officials from Damascus, pro-Saudi newspaper says
Russia is in the process of disengaging from embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and removing key personnel from Damascus, the Saudi-owned London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Sunday.
“The Kremlin has begun to turn away from the regime,” the newspaper said, citing senior Gulf and Western officials.
According to the report, opposition sources also noted that Hezbollah, in addition to Iranian and Russian military experts, had withdrawn from Assad’s war room in the Syrian capital.
The change in the Russian position is reportedly linked to ongoing negotiations between the Gulf States and Moscow, as well as the economic sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Syrian opposition sources told Asharq that 100 senior Russian officials had left Syria via the airport in the port city of Latakia.
Moscow also slashed the number of staff members currently employed at its embassy in Damascus, leaving only a few key members.
The pro-Saudi paper also cited the head of a Russian delegation at a meeting, who was asked to comment on the future of Syria.
“What matters to Russia is maintaining its strategic interests and ensuring the future of the minorities, the unity of Syria and the struggle against extremists,” the delegation chief was quoted as saying. The response is considered unusual in that for years Moscow officially maintained there was no alternative to Assad.
Assad announced in late March that Russia is supplying weapons to Damascus under contracts signed since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, as well as under earlier deals.
“There are contracts that had been sealed before the crisis started and were carried out during the crisis. There are other agreements on arms supplies and cooperation that were signed during the crisis and are being carried out now,” Assad said.
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