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Syria conflict: Is the West 'blackmailing' Russia to pass UN resolution?

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But the Russians appear to admit that they have no idea what can be done in Syria, and Lavrov acknowledged that despite months of tough opposition to Western anti-Assad initiatives, there is little or nothing Moscow can do to halt Syria's spiral into civil war.

"They tell us that we should persuade Assad to step down of his own free will. This is simply unrealistic," Lavrov said. "He will not leave, not because we are protecting him, but because he has the support of a very significant part of the country’s population.... We will accept any decision by the Syrian people on who will govern Syria, as long as it comes from the Syrians themselves."

Those options now seem to be narrowing sharply, leaving Russia bracing for the likely loss of its last Middle Eastern client state as the Assad regime's grip on power steadily declines, experts say.

Last week Russia sent a flotilla of warships to the eastern Mediterranean, half of which are giant landing ships capable of carrying large numbers of people, leading to speculation that Moscow is preparing to evacuate tens of thousands of Russian citizens from Syria.

"All attempts to mediate an inter-Syrian solution appear to have failed," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign-policy journal. "The opposition won't accept any formula that doesn't involve Assad leaving first, and that isn't acceptable on the other side. Another problem is that the opposition has no unified voice. Russia's best bet was to participate in negotiations leading to some sort of smooth transition, but that has foundered.

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