Russia said Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was “making a lot of mistakes” despite repeated calls from Moscow for his troops and rebel forces to cease violence and seek dialogue.
“We believe that the Syrian leadership responded incorrectly to the very first manifestations of the peaceful protests,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kommersant FM radio in a pre-recorded interview.
“The Syrian leadership — despite the numerous promises it has made in response to our calls — is making a lot of mistakes,” said Lavrov. “And the things that are actually moving in the right direction are coming too late.”
His comments came amid growing signs that Russia could drop its support for Assad after a year of violence that Syrian opposition activists say has claimed more than 9,100 lives.
Russia said earlier it was ready to back either a UN Security Council statement or resolution on peace envoy Kofi Annan’s proposals on ending the crisis as long as they contained no ultimatums.
Lavrov last week had also accused Assad of making errors and moving too slowly on reforms. But his latest comments suggest that Russia was unhappy with his leadership from the early stages of the bloody conflict.
Russian officials had until now avoided publicly discussing the possibility of Assad’s departure and insisted that any transition from his rule needed to be arranged through political dialogue in Damascus.
But Lavrov hinted on Tuesday that Moscow would not be opposed outright to the idea of Assad being offered safe haven by another country.
“Perhaps that is the case, but that is something for Assad to decide,” he said in response to a question about whether the Syrian president should step down before being toppled and then killed like Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Lavrov said it was up to the West to offer an acceptable way out for Assad and stressed that Moscow had never discussed the possibility of him coming to Russia.
“People in various Western capitals are calling him a war criminal and declaring that his rightful place is in The Hague,” he said. “This means that it is the people making these statements who should be the ones explaining his options (to Assad) — not us.”
Lavrov said direct negotiations could help decide the issue of who might lead Syria “through a transition period for a certain time as was the case in Yemen”.
Lavrov had said he never discussed Assad’s departure from power when he met the Syrian leader in Damascus last month.