Russia will not shift on Syria: Putin aide
President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that Russia's position on Syria would not shift under pressure despite the crisis likely to top the agenda during his visits to Berlin and Paris this week.
“Russia’s position is well-known. It is balanced and consistent and completely logical,” Interfax quoted Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
“So it is hardly appropriate to talk about this position changing under someone’s pressure.”
Peskov said Russia’s refusal to back further action against the regime after last week’s Houla massacre and other attacks on civilians was based on an approach “completely free of emotions, which are hardly appropriate here.”
Putin is expected to face a grilling from both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Friday during his first foreign tour since being sworn in for a third Kremlin term.
Hollande in particular has upset Russia by refusing to rule out foreign military intervention to stamp out nearly 15 months of fighting that observers believe has claimed some 13,000 lives.
Moscow is also coming under growing pressure from Washington to at least back broader financial sanctions against its Soviet-era ally.
The White House on Wednesday accused Russia and fellow Syrian sanctions opponent China of being on “the wrong side of history” and dispatched the US Treasury’s financial intelligence chief to Moscow for further talks.
Russia insists that it is not supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s but respect for international law and the policy of non-intervention in internal conflicts.
“We are not Assad’s allies. Now are not defending him or the current government of Syria,” Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov separately told reporters.
“We are defending international law and Syrians’ right to determine their own country’s future in normal circumstances,” he said.
Russia’s standoff with the West has been accompanied by reports of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations that are focused on ways Moscow could back down without losing its diplomatic prestige.
The New York Times has reported that one option being promoted in some Washington and Moscow circles involves a transition of power similar to that used to end president Ali Abdullah Saleh strongman rule in Yemen this year.
The discussed transition would reportedly see Assad cede power to his inner circle for an interim period during which political talks with the opposition are held.
Moscow could theoretically back this option because its historic relations with Syria depend not on Assad but generations of military and trade contacts that it might potentially keep long-term.
Russia has given no direct indication that it was willing to back such an initiative.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted earlier this week that peace envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan calls for talks “between the Syrian government and the opposition” rather than Assad himself.