Peace will not break out without tough bargaining

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There have times in the 22 months of the Syrian uprising when it seemed Bashar al-Assad might have been toppled – only for the rebels to falter, outgunned by his resurgent forces. But now, for the first time, there appears to be a feeling that he too will become a victim of the Arab Spring. Despite its massive superiority in weaponry, and the indiscriminate way it often uses it, the regime is ceding more and more territory to the opposition.

This has been the case for a while; but, crucially, Russia is now publicly acknowledging it for the first time. The country's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, says it is time to "face facts" and that a victory for the rebels "[cannot] be ruled out."

This is not entirely surprising. Russian officials accompanying the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, were privately acknowledging that Moscow has to accept the likelihood of a Syria without Assad and that other avenues need to be explored.

As The Independent has revealed, the same thinking lies behind plans drawn up by the UK, US and France, with allies in the region, to train rebel forces and offer them air and naval support.

It is hoped that the Russians will drop their opposition to a safe haven being set up inside Syria and will not object to the training of "moderate" revolutionaries. Vladimir Putin and others in the Kremlin leadership have often expressed concern that extreme jihadist groups could come out on top if the regime collapses. The US seems to share this apprehension, and the Obama administration has labelled Al-Nusra Brigade, the most successful rebel group, as a terrorist organisation.

If the Russian government were to persuade Assad to step down and go into exile it would want a say in the future political shape of Syria, perhaps insisting that members of the current regime are allowed to join a transitional administration. Tough bargaining will take place before peace of any sort breaks out.

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