West trying to persuade Russia to grant asylum to Assad; Moscow refusing [updated]

Western countries, primarily the U.S., are taking active steps to persuade Russia to grant political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Moscow is so far refusing to do so, Kommersant reported on Wednesday citing a Russian diplomatic source.

This absolutely disagrees with "information that has lately been circulated in Western media outlets that Russia has decided to grant political asylum to Bashar Assad and that he has transferred nearly all of his savings to Russia."

"We have no plans to collect Assad," the source told Kommersant.

Another diplomatic source from an unnamed Western country neither confirmed nor denied the information about this proposal supposedly made to Moscow in an interview with Kommersant.

The theme of the Syrian leader's fate is not only coming to the foreground in the standoff in Syria but could become a serious irritant in relations between Russia and the West, the newspaper says.

In fact, Russia and the West's approaches to the Assad problem are not that radically different as one might conclude from the parties' official statements, it says.

The idea of granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside Syria, including in Russia, cannot be put into practice, as Assad's emigration would jeopardize the Alawi religious community, which the Assad family has traditionally headed, says Alexei Makarkin, a first vice president of the Center of Political Technologies.

"I think Bashar al-Assad would decline such a proposal if he receives one," Makarkin told Interfax on Wednesday.

The Syrian leader cannot afford to leave the country, as this would put the Alawi community in a very difficult situation, Makarkin said. "The Assad family traditionally heads the Alawi community, which, in turn, wields huge influence in the armed forces and other security bodies. If Assad goes, the Alawis will lose their influence. Such a notion as the loss of influence has a very categorical meaning in the Middle East," he said.

If Assad emigrates, "nobody would even talk about the Alawis retaining their privileges. No one in the West can guarantee that no repressions would be started against the Alawis," he said.

 Assad is in quite a difficult situation, as he is experiencing pressure from all sides, Makarkin said. "Assad's supporters are criticizing him for excessive pliability, while Moscow is mildly expressing its discontent with the Syrian president's lack of flexibility," he said.

The West would actually welcome it if Russia granted political asylum to Assad, Makarkin said. "The West is interested in this. This would help form a government promoting the West's interests in Syria," he said.

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