Russia has warned that any attack on Syria needed a mandate from the UN Security Council. The remarks have come ahead of the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, where chances are slim that a common position will be found.
In an interview with Russian state television President Vladimir Putin said for the first time he did not exclude supporting a US strike, but only if there were strong evidence that the Syrian government had been using chemical weapons.
"To use any other means to justify the use of force … is unacceptable and cannot be qualified other than as aggression," he said. Russia sent another missile cruiser to the Mediterranean on Wednesday, to join other ships in Russia's naval unit there.
The Russian president's comments came ahead of a G-20 meeting to be held in Russia starting Thursday, which is sure to be dominated by discussions on Syria.
Russia has rejected US claims that Assad's troops were to blame for a suspected chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21, in which US officials say 1,429 people were killed.
President Barack Obama, who is currently visiting Sweden en route to Russia, wants to conduct a limited punitive military strike to degrade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks.
Obama Tuesday evening received backing from rival Republicans and the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his resolution permitting military action for a period of an initial 60 days, extendable to 90 with congressional approval. The draft includes a provision banning any deployment of US forces on the ground.
Obama's plans will go to the vote in Congress when lawmakers convene after the end of the summer recess next Monday.
Supporters and opponents of strikes
At the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Obama will meet British Prime Minister David Cameron. His country is traditionally one of Washington's strongest allies, but Cameron was defeated by parliament last week, when lawmakers effectively vetoed a proposed military contribution to any US operation.
French President Francois Hollande, who has stood firm in support of planned US action, has decided against such a vote in his country's legislature. The French parliament is debating Syria on Wednesday afternoon, but its support is not needed for the president to be able to give the go-ahead for limited military involvement.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Wednesday that Turkey would take part in any international coalition against Syria, but stopped short of giving details on any possible military involvement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is facing a general election later this month, has ruled out German military involvement, but vowed to hold talks in St. Petersburg to press for meaningful United Nations action on Syria, despite Russian obstruction.
Israel, meanwhile, is preparing for retaliation in response to a possible attack on Syria. It has been distributing gas masks to its citizens, prompting Palestinians in the occupied territories to demand similar protection as well.
rg/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)