The Russian foreign minister has accused the West of using blackmail to force Moscow to back UN sanctions against Syria. His comments come ahead of talks with UN-Arab League crisis envoy Kofi Annan.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Western threats to discontinue the UN unarmed observer mission to Syria if Moscow refuses to back sanctions authorizing force in Syria were tantamount to blackmail.
"We are being told to either agree to the approval of a resolution that includes Chapter 7 [which provides for possible sanctions, or we refuse to extend the mandate of the observer mission]," Lavrov told a news conference.
"We view this as a completely counterproductive and dangerous approach," he said.
Lavrov also stressed that Western powers should not expect Russia, a long-term ally of Syria, to be able to convince Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.
"It is simply unrealistic. And it is not a question of our inclinations, our sympathies or our antipathies," Lavrov said.
"He will not leave power. And this is not because we are protecting him, but becaused there is a very significant part of the Syrian population behind him," he told reporters.
Lavrov also insisted that Russia was not backing the Syrian leader.
"I will repeat - we are not supporting Bashar al-Assad. We are supporting what everyone else is - the peace plan of Kofi Annan."
His comments came ahead of talks later on Monday with UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan on the Syrian crisis, which has seen tens of thousands die in a 17-month-old revolt against President Assad.
Annan has proposed a six-point peace plan that has been constantly flouted since it went into effect in mid-April.
He will also hold talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during a two-day visit to Moscow.
Russia has repeatedly blocked sanctions on Syria at the United Nations and ruled out the use of outside force to end the Syrian conflict. It has also continued to supply the Syrian government with arms since the start of the uprising.
Second day of clashes
Lavrov's remarks come as activists report a second day of heavy clashes between rebels and government forces in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The fresh violence is taking place hours after fighting on Sunday that was said by activists to be the worst in the capital since the start of the revolt.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said violence across Syria on Sunday had killed 105 people - 48 civilians, 16 rebels and 41 soldiers. The toll cannot be independently verified.
The International Red Cross said on Monday that Syria is now in a state of all-out civil war. The formal designation has implications for potential war crimes prosecutions.
tj/ng (AFP, Reuters, AP)