Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C) joins Syrian army soldiers for Iftar in the farms of Marj al-Sultan village, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 26, 2016. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
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Russia will countenance Syrian President Bashar Assad leaving office, but only when it is confident a change of leader will not trigger a collapse of the Syrian government, sources familiar with the Kremlin's thinking say. Getting to that point could take years, and in the meantime Russia is prepared to keep backing Assad, regardless of international pressure to jettison him, those sources said.Such talk has fueled Western hopes that Russia might help broker Assad's exit sooner rather than later.On the contrary, state media, which toes the Kremlin's line, suggests Russia is instead doubling down on Assad and trying to shut down any U.S. attempts to discuss his future.Fyodor Lukyanov, a foreign policy expert close to the Kremlin who edits the Russia in Global Affairs journal, said there had been talk inside the Russian government about Assad's future and that he thought a deal was there to be done one day.Tarja Cronberg, a Russia expert who used to be a Finnish government minister, said Russia might agree to a deal on Assad's exit that retained key parts of the state's structure and political elite while integrating opposition politicians.
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