Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow 370.
(photo credit: Denis Sinyakov / Reuters)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said neither side can win the war in Syria, and that China and Russia would be unable to persuade Syrian President Bashar Assad to quit if they tried.
Russia has been rowing back since the Kremlin's Middle East envoy was quoted this month as saying the rebels could defeat Assad and that Russia was preparing for a possible evacuation of its nationals, the strongest signs yet that it was positioning itself for a post-Assad Syria.
"Listen, no one is going to win this war," Lavrov told reporters aboard a government plane en route to Moscow after a Russia-European Union summit in Brussels, in comments cleared for publication on Saturday.
Russia has angered the West and some Arab states by vetoing, along with China, three UN Security Council resolutions meant to put pressure on Assad to end bloodshed in which more than 40,000 people have died since his government began a crackdown on protests in March 2011.
Moscow contends it is not trying to prop Assad up, but Lavrov reiterated that it has no intention of helping remove him - and said it anyway lacks the influence to make that happen.
"Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone tells him, be it China or Russia," he said.
"Some regional powers suggested that we tell Assad we were ready to accommodate him. And we replied: 'Why do we have to do it? If you have these plans, go to him directly yourselves.'"
Lavrov suggested Moscow would not object "if there are those who are ready to give him some guarantees, if this stops the bloodshed - but only if it could stop the bloodshed, which does not seem to be a clear fact."
"Western intelligence services have serious fears and forecasts that the toppling of Assad would not resolve the problem, that fighting would move to a new stage," he said.
Rights group: Car bomb kills 5 in Damascus
Meanwhile, a car bomb killed five people and wounded dozens in the eastern Damascus district of Qaboun on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Another activist group in Damascus gave no figures for the number of people killed in the blast but said bodies were still being recovered from wreckage caused by the explosion.
The British-based Observatory, which monitors violence across Syria through a network of sources on the ground, also reported clashes between rebel fighters and forces loyal to Assad on the edge of the southern Damascus neighbouhood of Hajar al-Aswad.
The district is next to the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, which was taken over by rebels this week.
The Observatory says 44,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising erupted against Assad in March last year