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Russia 'never asleep' on Syria despite recent comments, ministry says

Foreign ministry tries to backpedal from earlier comments about Assad's downfall.

Russia president vladimir putin in turkey syriaEnlarge
Russian President Viladimir Putin listens on December 3, 2012, during a press conference with the Turkish prime minister in Istanbul. Putin met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks about Syria and how to deal with a conflict that has claimed around 41,000 lives since March 2011. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia attempted an about-face on Friday, 22 hours after a Foreign Ministry official suggested for the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s defeat appeared inevitable.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich issued a statement that attempted to clarify the widely reported opinion of Russia's deputy foreign minister that it is “impossible to rule out a victory of the Syrian opposition.” 

“We have never changed our position and will not change it,” Lukashevich said Friday, according to The New York Times.

He also said the comments were not intended for publication and that Russia has “never been asleep” on Syria — despite US congratulations on Thursday for a Moscow that had “woken up” to reality, The Times said.

On Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Kremlin’s Public Chamber that Syrian rebels are gaining ground, Assad is losing territory and Russia is planning to evacuate its citizens, Reuters reported.

Bogdanov, a special envoy for Middle East affairs, is the highest-ranking Russian official to make such comments, which were distributed across the globe by Russian media.

More from GlobalPost: US, Russia appear to find middle ground on Syria

The comments represented a dramatic shift away from Russia’s position on its ally, Reuters said.

“One must look the facts in the face,” Bogdanov said, according to the state-run RIA news agency. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry tried to explain away the briefing as comments taken out of context, the Associated Press reported.

Bogdanov was talking about the “Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors forecasting their quick victory over the regime in Damascus."

“In that context, Bogdanov again confirmed Russia’s principled stance that a political settlement in Syria has no alternative,” Lukashevich said.

More from GlobalPost: Syrian opposition rejects foreign assistance

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/russia/121214/russia-asleep-syria-assad-defeat-bogdanov