MOSCOW, April 19 (Reuters) - Russia said a meeting of foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group in Paris on Thursday was “destructive” and could undermine U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace efforts.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding talks on Thursday evening in Paris with European and Arab ministers from countries that had at previous meetings discussed support for opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Russia was invited but stayed away because the talks were “one-sided” without representation from the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
The goal of the meeting appeared to be not to seek dialogue among Syrians but “on the contrary, to deepen differences between the opposition and Damascus by stimulating the international isolation of the latter”, he said.
Russia has armed Syria’s government and shielded Assad by blocking a Western and Arab-backed U.N. Security Council resolution calling on him to cede power, but has backed Annan’s peace plan and supported it in ouncil votes.
Hoping to keep diplomacy in the Security Council, where it holds veto power, Russia says the world should focus on ensuring Annan’s efforts succeed and criticised gestures of support for the opposition from NATO and Gulf Arab nations.
Lukashevich said Russia was calling on nations that want peace and democracy in Syria “not to conduct destructive political activity, but to energetically support Annan’s efforts through practical actions”.
Russia last week urged Damascus to step up implementation of Annan’s plan, which demands a pullback of government forces, but has put some blame for continued fighting on rebels and foreign backers it says want a pretext for military intervention.
Russia opposes military intervention in Syria. Moscow says NATO used a U.N. resolution authorising operations to protect civilians in Libya to help rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year and has vowed not let it happen in Syria.
Syria has given post-Soviet Russia its firmest foothold in the Middle East, buying billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and hosting a maintenance and supply facility that is Russia’s only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union.