Russia has been a staunch supporter of Assad's since the conflict began last year, and before yesterday had not countenanced the possibility of his fall. Bogdanov's comments -- made at a Kremlin hearing in which he addressed the ongoing conflict in Syria and its possible outcome, reports Reuters – thus marked what was seen as a significant shift.
"An opposition victory can't be excluded, unfortunately, but it's necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body. ...
Bogdanov also reaffirmed Russia's call for a compromise, saying it would take the opposition a long time to defeat the regime and Syria would suffer heavy casualties.
"The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "If such a price for the ouster of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable."
Bogdanov's comments were taken by many as a sign of the Kremlin's weakening support for Assad. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she "commend[ed] the Russian Government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered."
But Andrew Weiss, formerly of the US state and defense departments, wrote in a commentary for Foreign Policy that it was more important to "Watch what the Kremlin does, not what it says." Mr. Weiss argues that there has been little evidence that Russia is backing away from Assad.