Russia has lost a long-standing ally in the Middle East with the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad, accelerating Moscow's dwindling influence in the region since the loss of its superpower status.
President Vladimir Putin was among the first world leaders to express his condolences, praising Assad as "a friend to Russia, who did much for Russo-Syrian relations," in a statement.
Russia's former prime minister and a veteran ally of several Arab leaders, Yevgeny Primakov, said Putin was worried about how the political situation would develop in the Middle East with the demise of the 69-year-old Assad.
"One of the last (of the old generation of) leaders of the Middle East has departed and this will of course affect the situation in Syria and the region as a whole," said Primakov, a fluent Arabic speaker and Middle East expert.
Primakov added that he hoped Assad's son Bashar, 34, -- proposed by the leadership of Syria's ruling Baath party to take over after his father's 30-year rule -- "will follow a successive policy.
"However, his son will not have that same political influence among regional leaders as his father," he concluded.
Primakov may attend Assad's funeral on Tuesday, together with the Communist speaker of the Russian State Duma lower house of parliament, Gennady Seleznyov, a Russian embassy spokesman in Damascus told AFP on Sunday.
Despite a lull in relations since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has remained the major arms supplier for Syria, and both countries kept a vestige of the close partnership that existed in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Moscow at the time enjoyed privileged ties with a number of socialist Arab countries in the Middle East, supplying aid and military hardware in a fierce struggle for dominance with the United States – MOSCOW (AFP)
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