MOSCOW (Reuters) – Demands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quit power are blocking efforts to end the 16-month-old conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Thursday.
Lavrov said such calls – made by the United States, several European and Arab governments and Turkey – were fanning the flames of violence and reiterated Moscow’s claim that support for Syrian rebel groups was tantamount to backing terrorism.
“We propose things that would allow for an immediate ceasefire, but the other side says, ‘No, either the regime capitulates or we will continue to back … the opposition’s armed fight’, justifying terrorist acts,” Lavrov said.
“As long as such support continues, what kind of humanitarian action can we talk about? – including the initiatives of those who will not allow this fire to die down, but instead are fanning it,” he told a joint briefing with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic in Moscow.
Russia, an ally of Syria, and China have faced vehement criticism from Western states for vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to increase pressure on Assad to end the violence sparked by a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Moscow retaliated this week, accusing the United States on Wednesday of trying to justify terrorism against the Syrian government.
The claim raised tensions surrounding a diplomatic spat in the U.N. Security Council, pitting Russia and China against their permanent veto-wielding counterparts the United States, Britain and France. Washington has said it will seek ways to tackle the crisis in Syria outside the world body.
Moscow has repeatedly criticised Western nations for encouraging Assad’s foes and said they must put more pressure on rebels to stop the violence in Syria, warning that some of those fighting government forces are extremist militants.
Russia, which sells arms and makes use of a naval maintenance facility in Syria, says its rejection of sanctions is not driven by support for Assad but by a conviction that Syrians must decide their own fate and opposition to military intervention.
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(Repoprting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; additional reporting and writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Andrew Roche)