MOSCOW (AP) - Syria's most powerful ally, Russia, said for the first time Thursday that President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, dramatically shifting the diplomatic landscape at a time of enormous momentum for the opposition.
While Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov didn't issue any immediate signal that Russia could change its stance and stop blocking international sanctions on Assad's regime, his remarks will likely be seen as a betrayal in Damascus and could persuade many Syrians to shift their loyalties and abandon support for the government.
It could also further strengthen the hand of the rebels, who have made some significant gains in their offensive recently, capturing two major military bases and mounting a serious challenge to Assad's seat of power, Damascus.
"We must look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Bogdanov, the Foreign Ministry's pointman on Syria, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body, the Public Chamber. "An opposition victory can't be excluded."
In this Tuesday, April 10, 2012 file pool photo, from left: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meet in Moscow. Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, that President Bashar Assad is losing control over Syria and his opponents may win, the first acknowledgement by Assad's main ally that he faces a likely defeat. (AP Photo, pool, file)