MOSCOW Russia will offer Washington no explanation for arms deliveries to Syria and together with China will prevent the U.N. Security Council from approving any military intervention in the conflict-torn nation, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Using his annual news conference to draw lines in the sand on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said veto-holding Security Council members Russia and China would stand firm against foreign intervention.
"We will insist - and we have an understanding with our Chinese colleagues that this is our common position - that these fundamental points be retained in any decision that may be taken by the U.N. Security Council," Lavrov said.
"If somebody intends to use force ... it will be on their conscience. They will not receive any authority from the Security Council," said Lavrov, who also emphasized that Russia and China oppose any sanctions against Syria.
Russia has been the most vocal supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 10-month government crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 civilians, refusing to join calls for him to step down.
Russia joined China in October to veto a Western-backed resolution against Assad's government, saying the domestic opposition shared blame for the violence and that it would have opened the door for military action like NATO's Libya operation.
Russia submitted its own draft resolution last month and proposed a new version this week, but Lavrov indicated the council was deeply divided over the issue of where blame lies for the bloodshed and the possibility of military intervention.
He said Western members of the Security Council "are categorically determined to exclude from the resolution the phrase that (says) nothing in it can be interpreted as allowing the use of force."
Western diplomats in New York, however, suggested that Russia was playing for time in negotiations on the draft resolution. Two days of negotiations on revising the Russian text failed to resolve the deadlock and bridge differences between the Western and Russian camps.
"Russia's playing games," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Negotiations aren't really going anywhere. China and others would probably agree not to block a tougher resolution, but Russia isn't compromising."
The United States, France and Britain, along with Russia and China, are permanent Security Council members with the power to block any resolution from passage.
Moscow has close ties with Syria, a leading client for arms sales, and its naval maintenance facility in the port of Tartus is a rare outpost for Russia's shrunken post-Soviet military.
A Russian-operated ship carrying what a Cypriot official said was bullets arrived in Tartus last week from St. Petersburg after being held up in Cyprus.
The United States said it had raised concerns about the ship with Russia, but Lavrov said there was no need for an explanation.
"We don't consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any (U.N.) Security Council resolutions," Lavrov told an annual news conference.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Tuesday that the United States "would have very grave concern about arms flows into Syria from any source" and that it was unfortunate there was no U.N. arms embargo on Syria.
Russia says such an embargo would cut off supplies to the government while enabling armed opponents to receive weapons illegally. Lavrov repeated on Wednesday that Russia and China oppose any sanctions on Syria.
"The red line is quite clear: we will not support any sanctions, because unilateral sanctions have been imposed without any consultation with Russia or China," he said.
Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia's total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the Russian defense think tank CAST.
An unnamed military source was quoted as saying in December that Russia had delivered anti-ship Yakhont missiles to Syria.
(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)