Andrew Osborne in Moscow – Telegraph.co.uk August 5, 2011
The warning came as the United States accused the Syrian regime of killing more than 2,000 people.
In his toughest comments on Syria to date, Mr Medvedev said that time was running out for Mr Assad to halt a crackdown against his own people, hinting that the Kremlin, a traditional ally, may change tack and support tough action against Damascus in the United Nations if the bloodletting continues.
“Unfortunately people are dying there [in Syria] in large numbers, and that is causing us huge concern,” said Mr Medvedev.
“Assad needs to urgently launch reforms, make peace with the opposition, restore civil order and create a modern state. If he cannot do that, a sad fate awaits him, and we will also be forced to ultimately take some decisions on Syria.”
Mr Medvedev’s warning came as Syrian troops pressed home a savage attack on the city of Hama on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and as tens of thousands of people protested against Mr Assad’s regime across the country. Activists said at least five people were shot dead on Friday alone, while scores of civilians have been killed in Hama in the last few days.
Syrian state TV broadcast images from inside the besieged city showing eerily quiet rubble-strewn streets and wrecked buildings. It claimed troops had been quelling an armed rebellion there, but rights activists dismissed such talk as regime propaganda, saying that the army had been shelling the city of 800,000 people indiscriminately and slaughtering people “like sheep.”
The violence followed a robust statement from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, who reiterated that Mr Assad had lost all legitimacy. “We think to date the government is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people of all ages,” she said.
But although Mr Medvedev’s position seemed to be moving closer to that of Washington, he appeared willing to give the Syrian President a little more time to defuse the crisis. Unlike Mrs Clinton, he also appeared willing to believe that Mr Assad was not personally responsible for many of the deaths there, claiming that the Syrian leader had not given “harsh orders to destroy the opposition” of the kind issued by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Yet signs that Moscow’s opposition to action against Syria in the United Nations is waning will alarm Damascus. Russia has been one of Syria’s closest allies since the Soviet era and Syria is counting on Russia and China to keep blocking UN action.