Russia says Assad losing control, rebels could win

  • A Kurdish member of the FSA is seen at a check point in Fafeen village, north of Aleppo province, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)A Kurdish member of the FSA is seen at a check point in Fafeen village, north of Aleppo province, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** A Free Syrian Army fighter poses Dec. 12, 2012, as he carries his weapon in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. Syria's civil war has killed more than 40,000 people. (Associated Press)**FILE** A Free Syrian Army fighter poses Dec. 12, 2012, as he carries his weapon in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. Syria's civil war has killed more than 40,000 people. (Associated Press)
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon Dec. 10, 2012, during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria. (Associated Press)A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon Dec. 10, 2012, during heavy clashes with government forces in Aleppo, Syria. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** A rebel fighter prepares to throw a homemade grenade toward Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar Assad who are hiding in a nearby building as they attempt to gain ground against rebel lines during heavy clashes in the Jedida district of Aleppo, Syria, on Nov. 4, 2012. (Associated Press)**FILE** A rebel fighter prepares to throw a homemade grenade toward Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar Assad who are hiding in a nearby building as they attempt to gain ground against rebel lines during heavy clashes in the Jedida district of Aleppo, Syria, on Nov. 4, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • Free Syrian Army fighters warm themselves Dec. 12, 2012, in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. Syria's civil war has killed more than 40,000 people. (Associated Press)Free Syrian Army fighters warm themselves Dec. 12, 2012, in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. Syria's civil war has killed more than 40,000 people. (Associated Press)
  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian citizens gather Dec. 13, 2012, in front of a damaged building destroyed by a car bomb in Qatana, 25 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of Damascus, Syria. (Associated Press/SANA)In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian citizens gather Dec. 13, 2012, in front of a damaged building destroyed by a car bomb in Qatana, 25 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of Damascus, Syria. (Associated Press/SANA)
  • **FILE** Aida cries as she recovers from severe injuries March 10, 2012, after the Syrian Army shelled her house in Idlib, Syria. Her husband and two of her children were killed. (Associated Press)**FILE** Aida cries as she recovers from severe injuries March 10, 2012, after the Syrian Army shelled her house in Idlib, Syria. Her husband and two of her children were killed. (Associated Press)
  • Syrian women wait outside a bakery shop to buy bread in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)Syrian women wait outside a bakery shop to buy bread in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • A Syrian boy stands between men as they wait outside a bakery shop to buy bread in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)A Syrian boy stands between men as they wait outside a bakery shop to buy bread in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • Syrians who fled their homes struggle to get pillows and blankets distributed at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter. (Associated Press)Syrians who fled their homes struggle to get pillows and blankets distributed at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter. (Associated Press)
  • A Syrian woman and girl carry their belongings Dec. 11, 2012, after their home was damaged due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria. (Associated Press)A Syrian woman and girl carry their belongings Dec. 11, 2012, after their home was damaged due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria. (Associated Press)
  • A kitchen damaged by heavy clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, is seen here on Dec. 10, 2012. (Associated Press)A kitchen damaged by heavy clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, is seen here on Dec. 10, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • Syrian girls who fled their homes with their families peek out of their makeshift school at a camp for displaced Syrians in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. (Associated Press)Syrian girls who fled their homes with their families peek out of their makeshift school at a camp for displaced Syrians in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • A Syrian woman who fled her home cries Dec. 10, 2012, while asking for a pillow and a blanket at a distribution at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)A Syrian woman who fled her home cries Dec. 10, 2012, while asking for a pillow and a blanket at a distribution at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)
  • Syrian children whose families fled their homes stand Dec. 11, 2012, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)Syrian children whose families fled their homes stand Dec. 11, 2012, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)
  • Abdullah Ahmed, 10, who suffered burns in a Syrian government airstrike and fled his home with his family, stands outside their tent at a camp for displaced Syrians in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 11, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)Abdullah Ahmed, 10, who suffered burns in a Syrian government airstrike and fled his home with his family, stands outside their tent at a camp for displaced Syrians in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 11, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)
  • Syrian children who fled their homes gather around a vehicle to get pillows and blankets distributed at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)Syrian children who fled their homes gather around a vehicle to get pillows and blankets distributed at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria, on Dec. 10, 2012. This tent camp sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war has lost the race against winter: the ground under white tents is soaked in mud, rain water seeps into thin mattresses and volunteer doctors routinely run out of medicine for coughing, runny-nosed children. (Associated Press)
  • Syrian men use sledgehammers to break the concrete of a residential building in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012, while searching for belongings under the rubble. The building was destroyed in a government airstrike. (Associated Press)Syrian men use sledgehammers to break the concrete of a residential building in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria, on Dec. 12, 2012, while searching for belongings under the rubble. The building was destroyed in a government airstrike. (Associated Press)
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BEIRUT — Syria’s most powerful ally, Russia, said Thursday that President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, the first time Moscow has acknowledged the regime is cracking under the force of a powerful rebellion.

NATO also predicted Assad’s fall, with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying the regime’s collapse is “only a matter of time.”

“An opposition victory can’t be excluded, unfortunately, but it’s necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body.

Bogdanov also said Moscow is preparing to evacuate thousands of its citizens from Syria, where nearly two years of violent conflict have killed more than 40,000 people and turned Assad into a global pariah. His statement marks a clear attempt by the Kremlin to begin positioning itself for Assad’s eventual defeat at a time when rebels are making significant gains.

Opposition fighters have seized large swaths of territory in northern Syria along the border with Turkey and appear to be expanding their control outside of Damascus, pushing the fight closer to Assad’s seat of power in the capital. In a Damascus suburb, a bomb blast Thursday near a school killed 16 people, at least half of them women and children, the state news agency SANA reported.

A day earlier, the U.S., Europe and their allies recognized the newly reorganized opposition leadership, giving it a stamp of credibility and possibly paving the way for greater international aid to those fighting Assad’s forces.

At the same time, international condemnation of the regime has grown more intense as Western officials raise concerns that Assad might unleash his chemical weapons stockpiles against rebels in an act of desperation. On Wednesday, the U.S. and NATO said Assad’s forces had fired Scud missiles at rebel areas.

Syria denied the Scud allegations, calling them nothing more than a conspiracy.

But the NATO secretary-general said the military alliance detected the launch of a number of the unguided short-range missiles inside Syria earlier this week.

“We can’t confirm details of the missiles, but some of the information indicates they were Scud-type missiles,” he said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“In general, I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse. I think now it’s only a question of time.”

Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said Bogdanov’s statement may reflect new information about the situation on the ground.

“A public statement like that appears to indicate that the balance is shifting,” he said.

Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist based in a rebel-held neighborhood of Homs in central Syria, said he is encouraged by Bogdanov’s comments because Russia is in a position to know about the strength of Assad’s forces.

“The Russians know his capabilities and his military force. Russia knows what warplanes and what weapons he has,” Abu Bilal said via Skype. “The Free Syrian Army is on the verge of strangling Damascus and this indicates that the regime is reaching an end,” he added, referring to the main rebel fighting force.

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