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Assad's key ally Russia says it's 'not concerned' about his fate

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks Thursday about Syria and other issues during his major annual news conference in Moscow.

MOSCOW — Russia's main concern in Syria is the fate of the country and not that of President Bashar Assad, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

He said Moscow wanted to ensure that any solution to the conflict in Syria must prevent the opposition and government forces just swapping roles and continuing to fight indefinitely, Reuters reported.

"We are not concerned about the fate of Assad's regime. We understand what is going on there," Putin said at his annual, nationally broadcast news conference.

"We are worried about a different thing: What next? We simply don't want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities and become the opposition — and (we don't want) this to go on forever," he added.

There is a growing sense of desperation at refugee camps along the Jordanian border. Refugees say in Syria you die from warfare, but in the camps it is a slow death caused by hunger and sickness. ITN's Emma Murphy reports.

Russia has been criticized by the West for blocking United Nations Security Council resolutions designed to put more pressure on Assad and his government.

Damascus has been increasingly pushed in recent weeks as the 21-month war, which has claimed at least 40,000 lives, rages on.

Last week, more than 100 nations, including the United States, recognized the new Syrian opposition council as the legitimate representative of the country, a boost for the opposition forces that have been bombing regime targets in and around Damascus, once an impregnable stronghold of the Assad regime.

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On Sunday, Syria's longtime vice president Farouk al-Sharaa said that his regime and the rebels were both going down a losing path after 21 months of civil war, a rare admission by a top government official that Assad's victory was unlikely.

Al-Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, has rarely appeared in public since the revolt erupted in March 2011. 

He told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar that neither the rebels nor the Assad regime can "decide the battle militarily." 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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