Russia warned Saturday that a “tragedy” was looming in Syria’s second city of Aleppo but said it was unrealistic to expect Damascus to stand by when armed rebels were occupying major cities.
“We are persuading the government that they need to make some first gestures,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference alongside his Japanese counterpart.
“But when the armed opposition are occupying cities like Aleppo, where yet another tragedy is brewing, as I understand … it is not realistic to expect that they (the government) will accept this,” Lavrov added.
The Syrian army launched a fightback against rebels in Aleppo on Saturday amid concern among Western governments about reprisals against the civilian population of the country’s second city.
“How can you hope that in such a situation, the government will simply reconcile itself and say, ‘All right, I was wrong. Come on and topple me, change the regime’?” Lavrov asked rhetorically.
“It’s just not realistic — not because we are holding onto this regime — but it simply doesn’t work,” he told the news conference in the southern city of Sochi which was broadcast live by state media.
In Syria, “excesses are committed from all sides. … We need to put pressure on all of them,” Lavrov said, accusing Western countries of providing assistance to the opposition fighters.
“Our Western partners … together with some of Syria’s neighbours are essentially encouraging, supporting and directing an armed struggle against the regime.”
“The price of this is yet more blood,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations that Moscow is backing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict, claiming to have an even-handed approach while rebuking the West for siding with the rebels.
Lavrov also told reporters on Saturday there were meetings planned in the near future with Syrian rebels “in Russia and foreign countries where these boys are based,” and that the point driven home would be “that if it is a revolution, they must not seek the backing of the UN Security Council”.
When asked later Saturday if Russia would provide Assad with asylum, he said: “We are not even thinking of that,” Russian news agencies reported.
Last week Russia along with China for the third time vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that would have threatened sanctions against Assad, to the outrage of Western nations.