MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia refuses to act as an intermediary trying to talk Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into fleeing, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments released on Friday.
Russia is at loggerheads with the West and some Arab states who accuse Moscow of shielding Assad, a long-term buyer of Russian arms, in the Syrian conflict that has already claimed more than 40,000 lives since it erupted in March 2011.
“We are not in the business of regime change. Some of the regional players were suggesting to us ‘Why don’t you tell President Assad to leave? We will arrange for some safe haven for him’,” Russia’s veteran Foreign Minister told the state-owned Russia Today English-language TV channel in an interview.
“My answer is very simple: if indeed those who suggested this to us have this in mind, they should take it directly to President Assad. Why should they use us as a postman? If President Assad is interested, this must be discussed directly with him,” he said in comments recorded on Wednesday.
Russia, along with China, has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have pressed Damascus to end the bloodshed.
It has insisted it is not protecting Assad, but wants to ensure that Syrians themselves can decide their fate without any external meddling, especially foreign military intervention.
Moscow says it will not allow a repeat of last year’s events in Libya, where NATO helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi after Russia let through a Security Council resolution that was used as a pretext for military action.
On Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin also said any solution to the crisis must ensure the rival parties in Syria do not just swap roles and fight on.
Russia has sent warships to the Mediterranean in case it needs to evacuate its citizens trapped in the Syrian civil war, a naval source was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Some analysts and Western diplomats in Moscow say Russia realizes Assad is likely to fall eventually, but that it will uphold its stance on Syria to make clear its broad rejection of what it sees as attempts to oust rulers the West dislikes.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alistair Lyon