BEIRUT: Future Movement Leader Saad Hariri Wednesday said that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin wants a political solution to end the five-year Syrian war.
"We all hope that there is a political solution in Syria as soon as possible. Our (Future Movement's) position on [Syrian President] Bashar Assad is clear, and their (Russia's) position is clear ... The Russians play a vital role in the region, and we are speaking to them based on this perspective," Hariri said after meeting with Lebanese Ambassador to Russia, Chawki Bou Nassar, in Moscow during an official visit.
Hariri had met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier in the day, with whom he discussed means to end Lebanon's political crises.
Foreign "meddling in the region's affairs – and especially that of Lebanon – is preventing the election of a head of state," Hariri said during a meeting with Lavrov.
"We appreciate the important role that Russia is playing in the region."
Lavrov expressed his country's keenness to safeguard Lebanon, calling on rival Lebanese leaders to maintain the country's best interests away from foreign interference.
"Russia is continuously cooperating with Lebanese political groups – and not only the Cabinet ... which reflects our interest in preserving the Lebanese community and state institutions," Lavrov said.
He said he hoped Lebanon could overcome its local crises, urging the country's foreign partners to create the necessary circumstances to facilitate the process.
Hariri also called for further cooperation between Lebanon and Moscow in combating terrorism along Lebanon's border and in the region.
The Lebanese army has frequently clashed with ISIS and Nusra Front militants holed up on the outskirts of Lebanon’s northeastern border.
The head of the Future Movement had met with Lavrov upon his arrival to Moscow, Hariri's press office said in a statement.
Also in attendance were Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Hariri's political adviser and former MP Ghattas Khoury, Hariri’s chief of staff Nader Hariri and the ex-premier's adviser for Russian Affairs, Georges Chaaban.
Interfax news agency earlier quoted Hariri as saying that "Lebanon is ready to cooperate with Russia militarily and various other matters," but emphasized that Assad "cannot be part of a final solution" to end the crisis in the neighboring country.
Despite his opposition to Assad, Hariri said Syria should remain united.
It isn't clear when the former premier gave his remarks.
Moscow began its air war in support of Assad's troops on Sept. 30, 2015, carrying out strikes on what they designated as "terrorist" targets across the country. Their air campaign has been criticized by rebel groups, their Western backers, and rights groups as indiscriminate.
In the last quarter of 2015, Russian airstrikes in Syria likely killed more than 1,000 civilians, according to the Airwars monitoring group.
The London-based group assesses media reports, accounts from rebel groups and non-governmental organizations to compile the estimated toll. It said its provisional view was that between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, as many as 1,448 civilians were "likely" killed in Russian strikes.
Earlier this month, Russia announced a drawdown but it said it would keep up its support for the regime's battle against ISIS and other extremist groups, but analysts say just 10-25 percent of Russian forces have left Syria.
Hariri flew to Moscow from Paris on his second visit to the Russian Federation in less than a year.
“The Moscow visit is part of Hariri’s flurry of regional and international activity aimed at serving the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese, as well as protecting Lebanon from the repercussions of regional conflicts, namely the war in Syria,” Future Movement MP Atef Majdalani told The Daily Star late Tuesday.
“Hariri maintains relations and friendships with Russian officials and the visit is aimed at boosting these relations,” he continued.