For the subtle world of diplomatic exchange, this one struck like a bombshell. Russia has admitted on Thursday for the first time that its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, may lose the fight against the armed opposition.
"Sadly, a victory by the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out", said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, but played on the West's conscience by warning that hundreds of thousands could die before that happens: "If such a price for the ousting of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable".
This comes a day after the international meeting in Morocco, which recognized the Syrian opposition alliance as the legitimate representative of Syrian people (see previuos post).
That Russia is preparing to evacuate its citizens from Syria is an ominous sign for Assad, although it doesn't mean that Moscow will cut the financial and military support for his regime.
Russia's position since the beginning of full-blown violence last year was more or less consistent. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has advocated political dialogue between the regime and the opposition, and was always at pains to point out that Russia had no special relationship with Assad. The official line is that Russia is merely looking to avoid a destructive civil war.
At the same time, Moscow shielded Syrian government from Western-sponsored resolutions in the UN Security Council, and carried on its military cooperation with the regime. While Lavrov sometimes sounded conciliatory notes - admitting Assad's responsibility for the violence - his deputies often echoed the Syrian regime's line that the crisis in Syria was the work of a handful of foreign-backed terrorist groups.
Of course, Russia would gain little by changing sides at this late stage of the game, even assuming that Russian officials privately wrote Assad off a long time ago. Moscow will keep pushing for some sort of face-saving settlement where Assad resigns, but parts of his regime remain in place and negotiate with the opposition on the formation of a transitional government.
Even this best-case scenario seems unlikely, given that the opposition now firmly believes it can win even without the West intervening. Bogdanov is right: Assad will fall, but things are going to get much uglier.
Read more on why Russia supports the Syrian regime.
Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images.