Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s delay in political reforms a “grave, perhaps fatal, error” according to Russian news agencies.
In a rare break from Syria – a traditional ally for Russia – Medvedev stated, “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.”
Commenting on the Syrian crisis while attending the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Medvedev told CNN television Sunday, “It seems to me that his chances of staying [in power] are shrinking day by day.” Medvedev amplified further for CNN, “I personally a few times called Assad and said, ‘You need to start reforms, you need to sit at the negotiating table.’”
“In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian authorities turned out not to be ready for this,” Medvedev lamented. The prime minister reiterated Russia’s stand that only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Assad. Medvedev blamed the fighting in Syria equally on the government and “irreconcilable” opposition, by which he included elements of “Islamist radicalism.”
As Russia’s official voice signals new distance from Syria’s tenuous Assad regime, the Syrian government is now trying to publicize an assortment of gestures toward political accommodation. Syria’s high judicial council has announced a suspension of prosecutions of opposition members so they can join a national dialogue, according to official news agency SANA.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar vowed Saturday to ease the return of opposition members living in exile, allowing them to join a national dialogue proposed by Assad on Jan. 6. Assad proposed in a rare speech to include in dialogue those opposition figures who were not “slaves of the West” and on condition that “terrorist attacks” came to a halt according to theage.com.
Assad’s regime however has consistently regarded virtually all political activists and insurgents as terrorists. Shaar cautions that the directive allowing Syrian opposition figures living abroad to return must not be regarded as a blanket amnesty.
“There is a big difference between those who safeguard their nation and those who are complicit in foreign agendas,” Shaar counsels.
So far Syria’s 22-month uprising has left more than 60,000 people dead according to the United Nations. Since the start of December , the U.N. has suspended operations in Syria and has withdrawn all non-essential foreign staff. Meanwhile U.N. Humanitarian Aid Chief Valerie Amos has been holding talks in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and other senior officials.