Medvedev Says Assad Committed ‘Grave, Perhaps Fatal Error’ by Delaying Reforms

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President Bashar Assad’s chances of political survival are shrinking by the day, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev charged on Sunday, accusing the embattled Syrian leader of making a possibly fatal error in delaying reforms.

“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,” Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying.

“It’s a grave error on his part, perhaps fatal,” he said in an unusually harsh statement about Assad by Syria’s traditional ally Moscow.

“It seems to me that his chances of staying (in power) are shrinking day by day,” Medvedev said in remarks to CNN television on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, according to the Russian agencies.

He reiterated Russia’s position that only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Assad, whose departure the West has long called for in the face of the near two-year long conflict in Syria.

“I repeat once again: It is for the Syrian people to decide. Not Russia or the United States or any other country.”

Moscow has long opposed any foreign intervention in the brutal conflict that the United Nations says has killed at least 60,000 people since March 2011, and along with China has blocked U.N. resolutions aimed at resolving the crisis.

Nevertheless, Russia has tried on several occasions to dissuade Assad from pursuing the conflict, Medvedev said.

“I personally a few times called Assad and said, You need to start reforms, you need to sit at the negotiating table,” according to the CNN transcript.

“In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian authorities turned out not to be ready for this.”

When asked if Russia had an interest in removing Assad to preserve its own borders from trouble, Medvedev replied: “We never said that our goal was to preserve the current political regime, or making sure that President Assad stays in power.”

Russia was not “an exclusive ally of Syria or President Assad,” he said.

“We had good relations with his father and him, but he had much closer allies among the European states.”

Now, he said, both the government and the opposition had a responsibility to instigate dialogue to end the war.

As Syria’s only powerful ally, Russia has used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block resolutions demanding that Assad step down and instead consistently pushed for reconciliation.

Syria’s deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil told Russian radio on Saturday that Syria was still receiving weapons from Russia under contracts signed long ago.

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