MUNICH/MOSCOW - Russia may be seeking a "controlled demolition" of Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule to save its sole major foothold in the Arab world against Western rivals when its foreign minister and spy chief hold rare talks in Damascus this week.
Moscow announced the high-stakes mission on Saturday hours before Russia and China, in a move that outraged much of the world and Syria's opposition, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution meant to halt Assad's bloody crackdown on a popular revolt by backing an Arab League plan urging him to step down.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would travel to Syria on Tuesday along with Foreign Intelligence Service Director Mikhail Fradkov for talks with Assad.
Lavrov revealed nothing about their purpose, but a Foreign Ministry statement on Sunday indicated he and Fradkov would at least press Assad, who has ruled out resigning and rejected his opponents as "terrorists," to make compromises.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the mission, it said, because Russia "firmly intends to seek the swiftest stabilization of the situation in Syria on the basis of the swiftest implementation of democratic reforms whose time has come."
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