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Russian comments on Syria hint at mounting disapproval of Assad

Russia appears to be running out of patience with Assad's heavy hand, and is preparing to push the Syrian leader for political and humanitarian concessions.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (r.) and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem listen during a joint news conference in Moscow on April 10.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

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After months of stubbornly backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia signaled today that it's running out of patience and may be ready to pressure him into withdrawing Syrian troops from towns and cities – a key condition of the Moscow-backed peace plan authored by UN envoy Kofi Annan.

Experts say that Moscow feels the time is right to exercise its influence over Mr. Assad – earned by vetoing two previous UN Security Council resolutions that would have called on the Syrian leader to step down, among other things – to extract political and humanitarian concessions.

With the Syrian regime declaring a possibly premature military victory over its opponents, and Western leaders seeming to have lost all appetite for direct involvement in a near-civil war that's killed more than 9,000 people by UN estimates, Russian policy makers believe they have both the opportunity and the clout to help fashion a longer term settlement that might keep Assad in power and preserve Russia's privileges in its long time client, Syria.

"We never supported Assad's regime," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's international affairs committee. "Our point was always that both sides have to share in the responsibility. There has to be ceasefire, and they both have to stop shooting. Assad promised everybody, including Russia, that he will end this outrage. Let us see whether he is able to keep this pledge. If he doesn't, then Russia may change its attitude towards him, because it will mean that he has fallen out with us as well.

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