(NEW YORK) — For the first time, Syria’s most powerful ally is acknowledging that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is cracking under the force of a strong rebellion.
Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s top envoy for Middle East affairs, said on Thursday, “We have to face facts. The trend is that the Syrian regime and government are losing more and more control and more and more territory. Unfortunately, the opposition could prevail.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO, echoed Bogdanov’s view, saying on Thursday that Assad’s downfall is “only a matter of time.”
Rebels have gained control of large sections of territory in the northern part of Syria and appear to be closing in on Damascus. Syria’s state news agency reported on Thursday that a bombing in the Damascus suburb of Qatama killed 16 people.
The Obama administration welcomed the Russian envoy’s public comments.
“We want to commend the Russian government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said.
Moscow is a longtime ally of Syria and has been reluctant to get on board with most of the international community in calling for Assad to step down.
Russia says it supports a negotiated solution to the conflict, which began in March 2011 with Syrians demanding democratic reform. It has since escalated into a major armed struggle, costing tens of thousands of lives.
Nuland called on Russia to work with the U.S. and other countries to help implement a political transition plan.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ashley Fantz, AnneClaire Stapleton and Ed Payne, CNN Newswire
Barbara Starr, Jim Sciutto, Jim Acosta, Stephen Collinson and Tom LoBianco, CNN Newswire