Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he will not be ousted by a popular uprising like Ukraine’s deposed president Viktor Yanukovich, a former Russian prime minister was quoted as saying on Monday.
“‘Tell Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) that I am not Yanukovich, I’m not going anywhere’,” Sergei Stepashin quoted Assad as saying during talks in Damascus last week, according to Russia's state-run RIA news agency.
Yanukovich fled to Russia in February after he was pushed from power by pro-Western protesters.
Stepashin, who served as prime minister in 1999 under president Boris Yeltsin and was the former head of Russia’s FSB security service, said Assad also told him that the “active phase” of fighting would be over by the end of the year.
“This is what he told me: ‘This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time – fighting terrorists’,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Stepashin as saying.
Stepashin now heads a charitable organisation called the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.
“Assad’s strength now lies in the fact that, unlike Yanukovich, he has practically no internal enemies,” RIA quoted Stepashin as saying. “He has a consolidated, cleansed team.”
“There is not a shadow of a doubt that he knows what he’s doing,” Stepashin added.
Russia has been Assad’s most powerful ally during the more than three-year-long conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people, consistantly blocking Western- and Arab-led efforts to drive him from power.
Russian officials say Moscow is not trying to prop up Assad but that his resignation cannot be a precondition for a political solution.
Russia and the United States organised peace talks that began in January between Assad’s government and the opposition rebels. But no agreement was reached and new talks appear unlikely to start anytime soon, in part because of heightened tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
Assad has lost control of large swathes of northern and eastern Syria to Islamist rebels and foreign jihadis. But his forces, backed by militant group Hezbollah, have driven the rebels back from around Damascus and secured most of central Syria.
Assad stands for re-election later this year, and Stepashin predicted he would win.
“The majority of the Syrian population will vote for him,” Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-07