Early on in the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the emerging consensus on Russia’s efforts to stall Western intervention–even with so much as a sternly worded Security Council resolution–was that Vladimir Putin’s interests could be addressed. He wanted, according to observers, guarantees Russia’s navy would not be expelled from its access to the Syrian port of Tartus and to have a say in Assad’s replacement.
These suggestions were probably true at the time, and may even remain as elements of the Kremlin’s Syria strategy. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seems to have upped the ante, and offered Russia’s clearest declaration yet that it is protecting not just its own interests–which could be granted by the West through negotiations–but Assad himself. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Lavrov, who has strongly defended Russia’s support for Syria’s government but has been increasingly critical of Mr. Assad’s behavior, said during a visit to Azerbaijan on Wednesday that he must comply with the cease-fire plan. But he also admonished the so-called “Friends of Syria” group of anti-Assad countries, which met in Turkey with exile Syrian opposition groups this past weekend, not to provide weapons to rebel combatants, as some of those countries have suggested.
“Even if the Syrian opposition were armed to the teeth, it would not be able to beat the government’s forces,” Mr. Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.