In meetings in Berlin and Paris on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his belief that a political solution should be sought in Syria, while shying away from sanctions he thinks would be ineffective.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Friday with his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, with both leaders expressing their belief that the conflict in Syria can be solved politically a week after more than 100 civilians were killed in the Syrian town of Houla.
The meeting between the two leaders took place in Paris, and both Putin and Hollande said the peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan should continue to be pursued as a means of ending the conflict.
Hollande said that any solution that did not involve the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was unthinkable. He also said that more sanctions against Syria are an essential part of a political solution - a stance Putin opposes.
"Sanctions don't always work," he said, adding Russia was not for Assad or for the opposition, but rather for an end to the violence and a solution that would avoid civil war.
Putin's meeting with Hollande came hours after a similar meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
From Berlin to Paris
In a joint press conference after the meeting, Merkel said Germany and Russia were aligned in their view that the crisis would best be resolved by political means. She also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to urgently adhere to a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
"The latest massacre in Houla showed once again how terrible the human and human rights situation is in Syria," Merkel said.
"We both made clear that we want a political solution, and that the Annan plan can be a starting point, but we must work with all our energy and force, particularly in the UN Security Council, on implementing this plan and if necessary developing other political actions."
Putin, meanwhile, warned that although the conflict was "extremely dangerous," military intervention was not an option. "You cannot do anything by force," Putin said.
UN human rights body condemns Syria
Members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted to condemn Syria on Friday over the Houla massacre. The 47-nation body approved a resolution blaming "pro-regime elements" and government troops for the killings by 41 votes to three.
They also called for an independent investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which was set up by the HRC last year.
Russia, however, joined China and Cuba in voting against the resolution.
Since the Houla massacre, Moscow has come under increasing pressure from Western nations to convince Assad to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has used its veto to block resolutions blaming the Syrian regime for the violence.
Just hours ahead of Putin's arrival in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister called on Russia to get tough on the Syrian regime.
Moscow"needs to recognize that in trying to end the violence in Syria, we are not working against Russia's strategic interests," Guido Westerwelle said in an interview published in the Friday edition of the daily paper Die Welt.
At the same time, Westerwelle warned against premature discussion of military action.
"In this difficult situation one must not create the impression that military intervention is a silver bullet," he said.
ccp,mz/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)