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Russia should get tough and help push Assad out of Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria, at Damascus University. Credit: AP, 2011

In a new low, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have massacred at least 100 people in the area of Houla, including dozens of children. Most were shot at close range.

It's been clear for awhile that Assad has got to go. He's murdered thousands of his people and clings to power through sheer ruthlessness. Despite unremitting violence, Syria's pro-democracy protesters have persisted and even morphed into a ragtag fighting force.

The question now is whether Russia, the main impediment to greater international pressure against Assad, is finally ready to give up on its bloody ally. There are encouraging signs; after the Houla massacre, Russia signed on to a tough UN statement condemning Syria's "outrageous use of force" and demanding that the regime pull its forces back from populous areas. Russia had been expected to block this statement, as it has blocked earlier proposals for tough Security Council condemnations.

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to represent a big change in Russia's position. It still blames both sides in the conflict, insisting it supports not Assad but a peace plan put forward by former UN chief Kofi Annan. But Syria, while claiming to accept the plan, has flouted every aspect of it. It's time for Russia to come off it. Assad must go, and he likely will, one way or another. It would be better for everyone if Moscow seizes the chance to play a constructive role by finding a way to get the tyrant out of the country. Otherwise Russia will find itself increasingly smeared with Syrian blood.