Members of a Syrian opposition group said that they sensed a shift in Russia’s stance on the conflict in their homeland and voiced hope on Tuesday that Moscow will crank up pressure on President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The group that visited Russia, and although claiming its opposition to the government, is not recognized by main Syrian opposition groups, as some believe it to be close to the regime.
Spokesman for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, Haytham Manna, said Russia had voiced its support for democratic changes in Syria and believes the Syrians themselves should determine the country’s future, as reported by the Associated Press.
“The representatives of the Russian government aren’t inclined to support the idea of preservation of the dictatorial regime,” Manna told a news conference. “They are talking about the need for continuing democratic changes, and it’s very important for us.”
Members of the Syrian opposition said they hoped Russia will apply its power to persuade Assad to observe U.N. and Arab league envoy Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan to end 13 months of violence in Syria.
“Russia has all the necessary levers to apply pressure on Assad’s government and help Annan’s mission,” Manna said.
Spokesman for the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir, said Russia’s position has been changing over the past two months and “particularly fast over the past two weeks.”
Head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, Hassan Abdul-Azim, who is leading the delegation, said Moscow’s support is essential for Annan’s mission to succeed.
“That is the last chance to end the fratricidal massacre and create preconditions for the transfer to a democratic form of government,” he said.
Manna said that while the opposition group was encouraged by the talks in Moscow, differences remain.
These opposition groups have become publically critical of the Assad regime despite having once been his supporters.
Russia continues to be strongly critical of Assad opponents using force, Manna said, whereas the opposition views it as a legitimate response to the violence being perpetrated by Syrian forces.
He said that the opposition delegation also sought to assuage Russia’s concerns about the rise of Islamism in Syria and prospects of continuing violence in the country in case of regime change.
The delegation is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Russia accused unspecified external forces of seeking to undermine Annan’s efforts to end more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, saying support for government foes was threatening a fragile ceasefire.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested armed opponents of Assad’s government were largely to blame for persistent violence which has marred a ceasefire that began last week as part of Annan’s six-point peace plan.
“There are those who want Kofi Annan’s plan to fail,” Lavrov said in televised remarks. “Today, those who from the beginning foretold the failure of Annan's plan are doing a lot to see that this prophecy comes true.
“They are doing this by delivering arms to the Syrian opposition and stimulating the activity of rebels who continue to attack both government facilities and civilian facilities on a daily basis,” Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Assad’s regime from U.N. sanctions over its deadly crackdown on a popular uprising. But Moscow has strongly supported Annan’s cease-fire plan to end 13 months of violence and begin talks on Syria’s political future.
In Paris, diplomats and finance ministry officials from the Arab world, the West and elsewhere were meeting to coordinate sanction measures against Assad’s repressive regime.
The Arab League and the European Union are among more than 50 participants who want to keep up pressure on Assad.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was set to kick off Tuesday’s closed-door talks in Paris under the “Friends of Syria” banner. But two Arab League nations -Syrian neighbors Iraq and Lebanon - were not attending.
Diplomats say a string of EU, U.S. and other sanctions are affecting Assad by curbing Syria’s ability to export oil.