MOSCOW: Russia on Monday firmly stood by its ally Syria as President Bashar al-Assad's foreign minister visited Moscow, warning that military strikes against the regime would lead to an "outburst" of terrorism.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, after talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in Moscow, painted a dark picture of the consequences of US-led military action and insisted the regime was still ready for talks.
In a sign of the closeness of the relationship between Moscow and Damascus, Muallem passed on Assad's personal thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his support in arguing against military action at the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.
"All the more, politicians share our estimation that a military solution will lead to an outburst of terrorism both in Syria and in neighbouring countries," Lavrov said after the talks.
Lavrov also warned strikes would create even more refugees and added Russia "cannot not be worried by the fate of Russians living in Syria whose health and life might be put at risk."
"The possibility for a political solution remains," Lavrov said, emphasising that his Syrian counterpart has assured him at the talks that Damascus was still "ready for peace talks".
The visit by Muallem came as US lawmakers were to return Monday from a summer break and debate limited US military action in Syria.
Russia and the United States agreed in May to organise a peace conference in Geneva bringing all sides to the table but the idea is fast receding as momentum grows for strikes over an alleged August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus.
"We are truly ready to take part in the Geneva conference without preconditions," said Muallem.
"We are also ready for dialogue with all political forces who favour reestablishing peace in our country," Muallem added.
But he warned that the position would change if military strikes took place.
"Right up to now we are ready (to take part). But I do not know what could happen after an American aggression. It's possible the rockets will land and wreck this conference," he said.
Moscow has also made clear it is unconvinced the regime was behind the chemical weapons attack that the United States and its allies say was carried out by the government and demands retribution.
Lavrov reaffirmed his belief that military strikes on Syria could wreck the chances of holding the peace conference.
"Most specialists believe that if the strikes happen the chances of holding the conference would be undermined," he said.
Russia's top diplomat added that UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had told him on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg last week that he shared this view.
Despite insistent Western pressure, Russia has refused to abandon its cooperation with the Assad regime throughout the two-and-a-half year conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives according to UN figures.
It has defiantly continued military cooperation, although Putin said last week Moscow had suspended deliveries of S-300 missile systems under a contract that outraged the West.
Russia's close ties to Damascus date back to the alliance between the Soviet Union and Assad's late father Hafez. The Kremlin fears losing arms contracts and influence if the dynasty falls.