Russia says 'naive' to expect Assad to halt fire first

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja (not pictured) in Helsinki August 20, 2012. (REUTERS/Sari Gustafsson/Lehtikuva)

MOSCOW: Russia said Saturday it would be "naive" for outside powers to expect Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw his troops first from cities and then wait for the opposition to follow suit.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said such a demand on the regime amounted to a call for "capitulation" that Western and Arab nations had no right to make.

"When our partners say that the government must stop first and withdraw all its soldiers and weapons from cities -- and only then call on the opposition to do the same -- well, this is a completely unworkable scheme," said Lavrov.

"Either people are naive or it is some sort of provocation," he noted in answering questions from students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Lavrov stressed that Russia was not trying to support Assad or his government but basing its policies on the daily situation on the ground.

"No matter your view of the Syrian regime, it is completely unrealistic in the current situation -- when there is fighting in the cities -- to say that the only way out is the unilateral capitulation of one of the opposing sides," said Lavrov.

"We are not holding on to any regime or any individuals in the Syrian situation," he added. "We are simply basing our position on what is realistic."

Russia continues to lobby for a short-lived agreement struck by world powers in Geneva on June 30 that called for a rapid ceasefire and supported a move toward a transition government that could decide the future of Assad.

But it made no call on the Syrian strongman to quit or explicitly deny him a role in the country's future. The armed opposition denounced the agreement and fighting has since escalated.

Lavrov admitted that Russia and the other international players had "serious differences" over the conflict. Moscow has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions threatening sanctions against Assad.

"Our Western colleagues and representatives of some regional governments are almost openly backing foreign intervention," Lavrov argued.

Russia has been adamantly opposed to any use of outside force for ending the bloodshed after giving de facto approval to a no fly zone over Libya last year that NATO used to launch air strikes against government troops.

Moscow accused the West of abusing its powers in Libya and has since vowed not to make the same mistake by sanctioning documents that could lead to action against its last remaining Soviet-era ally in the Middle East.

Lavrov said nations pressing on Assad to be the first to call an end to fighting that activists say has claimed 23,000 lives must claim responsibility for an even heavier death toll which would follow once the rebels seek to take control.

"The position of those demanding a unilateral capitulation from government forces are simultaneously encouraging armed opposition units to continue their fight -- this position assumes that they are ready to pay the additional price of many, many lives lost," Russia's top diplomat said.





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