Russia Steps Back From Envoy’s Comments on Syria

Syria may defeat the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, and said Russia’s insistence on a political solution to the Syrian crisis will never change.

 “We have never changed our position and will not change it,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr K. Lukashevich, at a briefing. He rejected a comment made by a State Department spokesman on Thursday that Moscow had “woken up” and changed its position as dynamics shifted on the battlefield, saying “we have never been asleep.”

Mr. Lukashevich said that Russia was not carrying out any discussions with the United States about Mr. Assad’s future, shooting down widespread speculation that Russia could help arrange the president’s safe passage out of Syria. He said he had restated Russia’s insistence on a negotiated solution “hundreds of times” in recent months.

“In the given situation, we are not talking about the fate of leaders, we are talking about the fate of people,” he said.

Mr. Lukashevich was seeking to calm speculation prompted on Thursday, when Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Public Chamber, a Kremlin advisory group, that it was “impossible to rule out a victory of the Syrian opposition,” in comments that were immediately made public by Russian wire services.

 The statement appeared to signal a turn in the nearly two-year-old conflict and was seen in the West as evidence that Mr. Assad was losing politically as well as militarily.

An earlier statement from the Foreign Ministry which was published on its Web site on Friday, said that Mr. Bogdanov “has not given any announcements or special interviews to journalists in recent days,” suggesting that his comments were given informally and not meant for publication.

It also framed his comments about rebel gains differently, saying he was simply repeating — and not confirming — the rebels’ claims about military advances.

“In this context, Mr. Bogdanov once more underlined the principled Russian position about the necessity of a political solution” to the crisis, the statement said. It did not deny that Mr. Bogdanov made the extensive comments, which were disseminated by Russian news agencies that were present at the hearing.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said that to the best of his knowledge, the comments represented an “expert assessment” of events on the ground in Syria, but were not intended for publication.

“The only conclusion we can make is that the Russian Foreign Ministry is very realistic about what is happening there,” he said. “There are no illusions about the trend. But we can understand the Russian position has not changed.”

In his briefing on Friday, Mr. Lukashevich also said Russia has been working with Ukraine to ensure the safety of Ankhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian journalist and translator who was captured two months ago by a Syrian militant group. Her captors have threatened to kill her unless they receive a ransom of $50 million, according to Ukrainian news sources.

In a video posted on the Internet last month, Ms. Kochneva was filmed saying she worked for Russian intelligence services, although it is not clear whether she spoke voluntarily.

Mr. Lukashevich noted that Ms. Kochneva’s captors had posted a video on YouTube on Thursday threatening to attack Russian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions, and he said Russia would take all necessary measures to protect its diplomats. A spokesman at the Russian Embassy in Damascus, the Syrian capital, told Interfax on Thursday that he saw no sharp deterioration in conditions and it is not yet necessary to evacuate personnel.

Ukraine has announced it is beefing up security at its facility in Damascus, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman this week called on the Syrian government to “take more active and effective measures to secure the release of the kidnapped Ukrainian woman.”

“We’re expecting concrete results,” said the spokesman, Oleksandr Dykusarov, according to the Interfax news service.