Skip to main content

Al-Assad's grip on power "slipping away," Medvedev says

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 8:28 AM EST, Mon January 28, 2013
  • Syria's al-Assad faces mounting odds as the revolt against him drags on, Medvedev says
  • The Syrian leader's resistance to reform is an "important, if not fatal" mistake, he says
  • But Medvedev says Syrians, not outside powers, should choose the country's new leaders

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's odds of holding power "are slipping away" as the nearly 2-year-old revolt against his rule grinds on, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says.

In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Medvedev distanced Moscow from its longtime Middle East client. But he repeated Russia's longtime insistence that outside powers shouldn't be picking Syria's leaders.

Official: Russia invites head of Syrian opposition for talks

"From the outset, the Russian Federation was not an exclusive ally of Syria or President Assad," Medvedev said. "We used to have good relations with him and his father, but he had much closer allies among the Europeans."

A nighttime escape from Syria
Syrian refugees set up camp, need aide
Rebel forces attack a Syrian prison
Fleeing the war in Syria by motorcycle

Russia has "never said that our goal was to preserve the current political regime, or making sure that President Assad stays in power," he added. "That decision has to be made by the Syrian people."

Opinion: Why Russia protects Syria's Assad

It's the latest in a series of grim assessments of al-Assad's chances from Russia, which has been Syria's leading arms supplier since the days of the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin said in December that Moscow won't support al-Assad "at any cost," and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov noted a few days earlier that the Kremlin "can't exclude a victory by the opposition."

Russia Analyst: Russia wouldn't resist intervention in Syria

When the Arab Spring revolts erupted across the region in early 2011, Syrians took to the streets to demonstrate against al-Assad's rule. The Syrian leader quickly responded with a crackdown by police and the army that soon exploded into a civil war. The United Nations says the conflict has now killed more than 60,000 people, and opposition activists said more than 100 were killed Sunday.

Rebel forces -- many of them led by former soldiers, others by jihadists linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network -- are now regularly battling government troops in the capital, Damascus, and the country's commercial hub of Aleppo.

Read more: Leaving Syria ship before it sinks?

Medvedev said he blames both the opposition and al-Assad's government for refusing to negotiate. He said he personally lobbied al-Assad to open up his regime to reform and that his resistance was an "important, if not fatal" mistake.

"The chances for him surviving are slipping away as days and weeks go by," Medvedev told CNN. "But once again, it should not be up to us. It should be up to the Syrian people."

Russia has criticized Western powers, including the United States, that have recognized the opposition as Syria's rightful leadership. Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council attempts to take action to end the conflict and force al-Assad to step down.

Medvedev spoke to CNN at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His comments contrasted with those of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who said Friday that al-Assad is not likely to fall for months.

"Anyone who says that Bashar's regime has got weeks to live really doesn't know the reality on the ground," he said during a panel appearance with Zakaria at the World Economic Forum. "They still have capability. ... So (I expect) a strong showing for at least the first half of 2013."

But Medvedev warned that if al-Assad's rule is "swept away" by the revolt, the result could be a conflict among its successors that could last "for decades." Asked about concerns that jihadists could use a successful campaign in Syria to spread into southern Russia, where Islamic militant groups have been battling Moscow for more than a decade, he said that prospect should alarm the West as well.

"They can travel to Europe. They tried to. And in the U.S.," Medvedev said. "So it is alarming for all of us. It does not mean, though, that we should bring to power radical opposition leaders. It should be a difficult process, led by civil society."

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 5:19 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.