Russia had laid out a proposal in 2012 for a peace deal in Syria that would have seen President Bashar al-Assad step aside 'elegantly', but the United States and other western powers chose to ignore the proposal, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has revealed to The Guardian.
Ahtisaari had held discussions over Syria's civil war with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, during which Russia proposed a three-point plan of not giving arms to the opposition, starting a dialogue between Assad and the opposition, and for finding an 'elegant way' for Assad to step aside, the report said.
However, the US, UK and France ignored the peace deal put forth by Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, as they were allegedly confident that Assad would be overthrown, he said.
The report comes amidst allegations by the US against the Russian military of attempting to set up a base in Syria.
China's response to the deal is not clear.
"Nothing happened because I think all these, and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything," Ahtisaari was quoted as saying.
Since 2012, the death toll of Syrians climbed from 7,500 to over 2,20,000 this year, while thousands have also fled the war-torn nation, leading to one of the biggest refugee crises the world has seen.
The Syrian civil war is also believed to have helped in the formation of the Islamic State, or Isis, which has seized almost half the territory in Syria over the last year.
"It was an opportunity lost in 2012," Ahtisaari told The Guardian. "This is a self-made disaster, this flow of refugees to our countries in Europe".
The Nobel Peace Prize winner had been commissioned by The Elders, a global group of leaders formed by Nelson Mandela, to meet with the envoys of the five UN Security Council permanent members in February 2012.
Western representatives have, however, maintained that the Syrian opposition groups had refused any kind of a peace deal with Assad, who had already allegedly used brute force against the people.
Middle East experts have also questioned the credibility of Ahtisaari's claim.
"I think it is true that the general feeling was Assad wouldn't be able to hold out. But I don't see why that should have led to a decision to ignore an offer by the Russians to get him to go quickly, as long as that was a genuine offer," John Jenkins, director of the Middle East wing of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Guardian.
The US on Monday blamed Russia of continuing to support Assad, claiming that Russian T-90 tanks had been sighted near Latakia in Syria.
"It certainly appears as though ... they are continuing to support - and perhaps even with additional assets - the Assad regime," Reuters quoted State Department spokesman John Kirby as saying.