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President Bashar al-Assad’s chances of staying in power are “shrinking by the day,” Dmitri Medvedev said on Sunday in Russia’s sternest criticism of the Syrian regime to date.Mr Assad, a Russian protégé who has survived thanks in part to Moscow’s use of its veto at the United Nations security council, made a “grave, perhaps fatal error” in his failure to initiate political reform earlier, Prime Minister Medvedev said.
“He should have acted much more quickly and reached out to the peaceful opposition which was ready to sit at the negotiating table with him,” he said in an interview with CNN on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum conference.
“It seems to me that his chances of staying are shrinking day by day.”
Mr Medvedev’s unexected intervention is unlikely to have a major effect on Russian policy, which is directed personally by President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Putin’s over-riding concern is to preserve a key ally and prevent a geopolitical triumph by either the United States or Islamists – a clear possibility if he dropped his backing for Mr Assad. Russia, by Syria’s own admission, continues to provide arms to Damascus.
Russia, by Syria’s own admission, continues to provide arms to Damascus.
Mr Medvedev himself went on to say that a compromise had to be found that did not lead to Mr Assad being “executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak” – referring to the deposed leaders of Libya and Egypt.
But his words are an indication of the seriousness of Mr Assad’s predicament.
By contrast, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, last week, suggested that there were no imminent signs of Mr Assad being forced out, with regime air attacks currently keeping rebel forces at bay.
Oxfam, in a report published on Monday, said there had been a sharp increase in the number of refugees in the past week – threefold in Jordan alone. In total, about 670,000 people have fled the country, on top of millions more who have left their homes for safer areas.
A United Nations appeal for £1.5 billion to provide aid, though, has reached only three per cent of its target, and criticism is growing of countries which support either side in the conflict not doing enough to deal with the consequences.
Justine Greening, the international development secretary, announced that Britain would provide £21 million to bring its total aid package to £89.5 million, and called on other countries to do more to help Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the neighbours playing host to most of those fleeing Syria.
“It’s clear the humanitarian crisis is going to be a protracted one,” she told The Daily Telegraph, while on her way from visiting a camp in Jordan to a donors’ conference in Kuwait. “We need countries attending this conference to provide help.”
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