Moscow concerned about Syria, not Assad
Moscow, Feb 26 : Moscow's position on Syria stems from its concern for the Syrian people, and not the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
"Russia's position is not predetermined by support of personalities; it is dictated by concern about the fate of the Syrian people, our long-standing friend and partner, and the fate of a country which has a very long history," Lavrov said at a news conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid Mouallem.
The US has called for Assad to step down, but Russia says it is concerned that the Syrian president's forced departure would make the conflict worse.
Russia would like to see Syria as an independent and united country with all sections of society living in peace and stability, regardless of their political sympathies and resolving their domestic problems without outside interference, Lavrov said.
The number of political forces favouring a political settlement in Syria is growing, Lavrov claimed, adding there is no acceptable alternative to a settlement through a political dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.
"There are sensible forces that are becoming increasingly aware of the need for an early start of negotiations and a political settlement. The number of those supporting this realistic line is growing," he said.
The situation in Syria is at a critical point, with the escalation of the conflict threatening the disintegration of the Syrian state and society, he said.
Mouallem repeated the Syrian government's claim that the conflict in Syria is "a war against terrorism" spearheaded by the Al Qaeda.
"One of Al Qaeda's branches is conducting the main combat actions in Syria and it has brought into Syria militants from 28 countries, including from Chechnya," he said.
He reiterated the Syrian government's readiness for dialogue with the opposition, "even those with weapons in their arms".
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov earlier said that foreign military supplies to Syria's armed opposition have been growing.
He reiterated Russia's official position that Moscow will not carry out fresh arms deliveries to the Syrian government, but is only supplying arms and military equipment under contracts signed before the civil war, which has claimed around 70,000 lives according to the latest UN estimates.
Lavrov also denied Moscow had tried to smuggle arms components into Syria via Finland, and said there are no Russian troops in Syria apart from several dozen technical staff at the Tartus naval support facility.
State-run arms dealer Rosoboronexport said it is supplying air-defence missile systems and maintenance and servicing equipment to Syria, but not combat aircraft.