MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that neither side would win the civil war in Syria, and that China and Russia would be unable to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to quit if they tried.
Russia has been rowing back after the Kremlin’s Middle East envoy was quoted as saying earlier this month that the rebels could defeat Assad’s government and that Russia was preparing for a possible evacuation of its nationals, the strongest signs yet that Russia is positioning itself for a post-Assad Syria.
“Listen, no one is going to win this war,” Lavrov told reporters aboard a government plane en route to Moscow from the Russia-EU summit in Brussels.
“Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone says, be it China or Russia.”
Lavrov repeated that Russia had rejected requests from countries in the region to pressure Assad to go or offer him safe haven, and that his exit might lead to an upsurge in fighting.
“Some regional powers suggested that we tell Assad we were ready to accommodate him,” he said. “And we replied: “Why do we have to do it? If you have these plans, go to him yourselves directly.”
He said the international envoy seeking peace through diplomacy, Lakhdar Brahimi, would visit Russia before the end of this year.
In comments cleared for release on Saturday, Lavrov also said Syria’s chemical weapons had been concentrated in one or two areas and were “under control” for the time being.
Lavrov said the biggest threat from Syria’s chemical weapons was that they could fall into the hands of militants.
“Currently the (Syrian) government is doing all it can to secure (chemical weapons), according to intelligence data we have and the West has,” he said.
“The Syrian authorities have concentrated those arms deposits, previously scattered across the country, in one or two centres.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this month that Washington had intelligence raising serious concerns that Assad’s government was considering using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.
The 20-month conflict has killed over 40,000 people.