Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that some Syrians protesting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime are “terrorists” and that the world should urge both sides to refrain from violence.
In an interview with the France-based news channel Euronews, Medvedev admitted the Syrian authorities had been guilty of using “disproportionate force” against protesters, but called the country a “friend” of Russia.
“It’s true that we recognize that there are problems in Syria. We’re aware of the disproportionate use of force, and of a large number of victims, and it’s something we disapprove of,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the network.
“I have addressed myself several times to President Assad on this, but I think that if we decided to address a severe message to Syria, we should do the same thing to the opposition,” Medvedev continued, according to Euronews’ translation.
“Those who are chanting anti-government slogans are very diverse people. Some are clearly extremists, some could even be described as terrorists,” he said, distancing Moscow from the West’s support for what it sees as a pro-democratic revolt.
“We are ready to back different approaches, but they should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the actions of the government and President Assad. We should send a strong message to all the parties to the conflict,” he added.
“Russia’s interest in such a solution lies also in the fact that Syria is a friendly country with which we have numerous economic and political ties.”
While Washington and some European capitals are seeking tough economic sanctions to pressure Assad to step down or at least to allow wholesale democratic reform, Moscow has been an obstacle with veto power in the UN Security Council.
France has accused Assad’s forces of committing “crimes against humanity” in its crackdown, and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe met his Russian counterpart on Wednesday to urge the Kremlin to join Western calls for change.
The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since democracy protests flared in Syria in mid-March, another in the series of anti-government uprisings to sweep the Arab world.