A senior Russian official has acknowledged for the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is losing control over his country and may be toppled by rebels.
On December 13, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Russia is making plans for the possible evacuation of thousands of its nationals from Syria.
He said a victory by the rebels would come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
The Russian acknowledgement of Assad's possible departure is significant because Moscow is a long-time Syrian ally and has called for talks between the Syrian government and the rebels to resolve the 20-month-long conflict.
Russia has also joined China at the UN Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have pressured Assad's regime to end its bloody crackdown on the uprising.
The Russian change of heart came as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the Syrian regime is approaching collapse.
He said that Damascus was resorting to using indiscriminate force including Scud missiles against opponents.
"The use of such indiscriminate weapons shows utter disregard for the lives of the Syrian people. It is reckless and I strongly condemn it," Rasmussen said.
Syria denied reports that government forces are using Scud missiles against rebels.
Syrian state TV on December 13 quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official who called such reports "baseless rumors." The official said such reports were aimed at projecting a negative image of Syria.
On December 12, U.S. and NATO officials accused forces loyal to Assad of firing Scud missiles into northern regions controlled by the rebels.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Interfax
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