Russia's pointman on Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, was quoted by three Russian news agencies, two of them state-owned, telling a Kremlin advisory body on Thursday that "there is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," adding that "an opposition victory can't be excluded."
But the Foreign Ministry insisted in a statement on Friday that Bogdanov only was referring to the claims of 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," the ministry's spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich said in the statement.
Bogdanov was speaking before the Public Chamber, a Kremlin advisory body. His statement quoted by Russian news agencies marked the first official acknowledgment from Moscow that Assad's regime may fall and was certain to be seen as a betrayal by the Syrian ruler, further eroding his grip on power amid the opposition successes on the ground and a recognition of the Syrian opposition by the United States and other leading world powers.
Bogdanov's comments were quoted verbatim by state-owned Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and ITAR-Tass, and also by Interfax. The Foreign Ministry on Thursday turned down the AP's interview request.
The ministry's denial came about 22 hours later, a long delay after the minister's remarks were reported by Russian and international media and drew worldwide reaction.
Russia has joined with China at the United Nations Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad's regime over its bloody crackdown on the uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow also has continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons despite strong international protests.
The U.S. later on Thursday commended Russia for "waking up to the reality" by acknowledging the Syrian regime's impending fall.
Analysts viewed Bogdanov's statement as Russia's attempt to begin positioning itself for Assad's eventual defeat.