Middle East

Saudi daily insists Russian official interviewed on Syria

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meets with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari at the headquarters of the foreign ministry in Baghdad August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

RIYADH: A Saudi daily insisted Wednesday it had held an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, following denials from Moscow that he had ever spoken to the newspaper.

Al-Watan posted online a recording which it said proved the interview, in which Bogdanov purportedly said Syrian President Bashar Assad's influential brother Maher lost both his legs in a bomb attack, had indeed taken place.

The Russian foreign ministry swiftly denied Bogdanov had spoken to Al-Watan after the paper published a report on Tuesday quoting him as saying that Maher al-Assad was "struggling for survival after losing his two legs due to an explosion" targeting top security officials.

On July 18, Defence Minister General Daoud Rajha, Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and General Hassan Turkmani, head of Syria's crisis cell, were killed in a bombing at National Security headquarters in Damascus. National Security chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar died later.

No mention has previously been made that Maher al-Assad was injured in the attack.

The paper also quoted Bogdanov as supporting a "peaceful transfer of power" from the Assad regime, despite Russia being a staunch ally of the Syrian president.

Responding to the purported interview, a source at the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday "this looks like a new media provocation."

Al-Watan on Wednesday then posted online a recording in which Bogdanov supposedly made his comments.

But the taped voice and accent of the man who spoke fluent Arabic sounded different from the voice of Bogdanov in videos available online.

Russian officials have made a series of denials of late about media reports attributed to them.

On August 8, Russian general Vladimir Kuzheyev was reported to have been killed by Syrian rebels. However, he denied these reports himself at a press conference, stating that he was in good health.

Prior to that, Russia's interior ministry also denied issuing confirmation of the Syrian president's death, following the rapid spread of a Twitter message attributed to Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev saying Assad and his wife had been fatally attacked in western Syria.

The ministry said that Kolokoltsev is an active Internet user but "does not have a single account on any of the social networks."





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