Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad
Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad Reuters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may well be on his way out if a new report on Sunday is true; according to sources his regime has lost the backing of Russia which, along with Iran, had been key in propping him up in the civil war against rebel forces.

According to Gulf and Western officials quoted in the London-based Arabic paper Asharq Al-Awsat, "the Kremlin has begun to turn away from the (Assad) regime."

As part of that process 100 of Russia's senior officials and their families were recently pulled out of Syria in a flight from Latakia, according to opposition sources in Syria cited by the paper.

Those officials include those who took part in operating Damascus's war room together with Iranian and Hezbollah experts, and since being evacuated they have reportedly not been replaced by Russia. According to the sources the Hezbollah and Iranian military experts have also left Assad's war room.

As far as why Moscow saw fit to suddenly change its stance vis-a-vis Assad, the Gulf and Western sources in the report say the move is due to Russia growing closer to the oil-rich Gulf states as it seeks a way to cope with economic sanctions against it over its actions in Ukraine.

Aside from the recent pull-out of 100 officials and their families, Russia has in the last three months reduced its Damascus embassy down to only essential staff according to the paper, with opposition forces saying the Kremlin is not honoring its maintenance contracts with Assad for Sukhoi aircraft leading Syria's defense minister to ask Iran to intervene in a rare visit in April.

Adding credence to its claims, the report cited the head of the Russian delegation on the Syria issue in a meeting a month ago regarding Syria held with Western European security sources.

He told them, "what matters to Russia is maintaining its strategic interests and ensuring the future of the minorities, the unity of Syria and the struggle against extremists," ending the official Russian stance that Assad's continued regime is the only option in Syria.

Assad has lost a series of key battles in recent weeks and his rule is viewed by many experts to be rapidly crumbling.

Just last month with the loss of the ancient city of Palmyra, Islamic State (ISIS) reportedly expanded its hold to 50% of Syria's territory, with other opposition forces likewise holding sway in mass swathes of the state.