Syria's Assad appeals for Russian support
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Russian television on Sunday he expected continued support from Moscow even as his regime comes under growing condemnation for its crackdown on the opposition.
"First and foremost, we are relying on Russia as a country with which we are bound by strong ties, in the historical perspective," Assad told Moscow's Channel One television.
"Russia's role is extremely important," Assad said in a clip of an interview that will be broadcast in full at 1700 GMT.
"We rely no Russia's position, on the fact that Russia will not only continue supporting Syria but also advocate world stability."
Assad's appeal came less than a month after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the Syrian strongman for the first time to either accept political reform or bow to calls for his resignation.
But Russia continues to support Syria at the UN Security Council and has blocked past resolutions calling for stiffer sanctions against Moscow's traditional ally.
Hints of a cautious easing of Russia's support were reaffirmed on Sunday when a powerful lawmaker in charge of the upper house of parliament's foreign affairs committee called Assad's violent methods counterproductive.
"Breaking up opposition rallies with tanks, artillery and machine gun fire attacks complicates reforms, which in this extremely difficult situation are inevitable," Mikhail Margelov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
"Obviously the Syrian security forces can use other methods of fighting the unrest besides staging bloody attacks on crowds," Margelov said.
The Russian lawmaker serves as the Kremlin's pointman on both the Libyan and Syrian crises. He has staged several meetings with Assad representative in Moscow and has previously accused the opposition of harbouring terrorist ties.
Moscow has tried using its Soviet-era links to the Arab world to boost its regional standing by casting itself as a moderate voice that tried to avert Western-led wars in the region.
The Russian foreign ministry had said at the start of the month that it was expecting an official visit in October from a group of Syria's foreign-based opposition representatives.
No such meeting has taken place however after a previous delegation left Moscow in September without any reported results.
Russia has linked its backing of Syria at the United Nations to its March decision not to veto a resolution that opened the way for the use of Western force against its other regional ally Libya.
Moscow opposed that campaign and now fears that a UN resolution on Syria could be vague enough to permit NATO to strike again.
Assad praised Russia for "knowing the dangers of military and political intervention in Syria internal affairs."
He also stressed that he remained in "constant contact" with Moscow despite hints of growing displeasure from the Kremlin.
"Starting from the first days of the crisis, we remained in constant contact with the Russian government. We give a detailed account to our Russian friends of the latest developments," Assad told Channel One.
© 2011 AFP