Financial Times reports: Just weeks before his death on January 3, Colonel-General Igor Sergun, director of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, was sent to Damascus on a delicate mission.
The general, who is believed to have cut his teeth as a Soviet operative in Syria, bore a message from Vladimir Putin for President Bashar al-Assad: the Kremlin, the Syrian dictator’s most powerful international protector, believed it was time for him to step aside.
Mr Assad angrily refused.
Two senior western intelligence officials have given the FT details of Sergun’s mission. The Russian foreign ministry referred a request for comment to the defence ministry, which said it was unable to comment.
Russia’s failed gamble in Damascus left Mr Assad more entrenched than before, and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the vicious civil war appear again to be ebbing away.
UN officials have spent the past week lowering expectations that the talks between the warring factions planned for January 25 in Geneva will go ahead, let alone produce a diplomatic breakthrough.
It is a dramatic reversal of fortunes. News of the secret proposal delivered by Sergun — a choreographed transition of power that would maintain the Alawite regime but open the door to realistic negotiations with moderate rebels — added to a growing mood of optimism among western intelligence agencies in late 2015. [Continue reading…]