Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Western and Arab nations on Wednesday against arming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s foes, saying that Syria’s opposition will never defeat Assad’s army even if it is “armed to the teeth.”
“Even if the Syrian opposition is armed to the teeth, it will not be able to defeat the government’s army,” Lavrov was quoted by Interfax as saying while on a visit to the ex-Soviet nation of Azerbaijan.
Lavrov said that the “Friends of Syria” group of Western and Arab nations is undermining international envoy Kofi Annan’s efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.
“Everyone has supported Kofi Annan’s plan but decisions at the “Friends of Syria” group meeting aimed at arming the opposition and at news sanctions undermine peace efforts,” state-run Itar-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying.
Western and Arab nations said after a “Friends of Syria” meeting on Sunday that the group would consider further “measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people.”
Russia has stayed away from meetings of the group, saying it is biased in favor of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and is not advancing peace efforts.
Russia has joined China in vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's government for the violence, and says foreign calls for his exit are unacceptable.
The United Nations estimates Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the past year, while the government says about 3,000 security personnel have been killed by what it describes as foreign-backed gangs of terrorists.
Assad has agreed to a ceasefire negotiated by Annan from Apr. 10.
Russia has agreed with the stipulation that the government must take the first step, but has emphasized that the opposition must swiftly take measures to comply.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin’s Middle East envoy called for “actions in response by the Syria opposition and its armed groups, including a clear affirmation of dedication to the ‘Annan plan’ and practical steps to implement it.”
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.
Russia has promised “full support” for Annan’s plan, which includes a political dialogue between the government and opponents but no direct call for Assad to step aside.
Lavrov said representatives of the Syrian opposition would visit Moscow soon, and Itar-Tass cited an unnamed diplomat in the Russian capital as saying Syria's foreign minister would visit on Apr. 10.