Russia refuses to act as an intermediary trying to talk Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into fleeing, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments released on Friday.
Russia is at loggerheads with the West and some Arab states who accuse Moscow of shielding Assad, a long-term buyer of Russian arms, in the Syrian conflict that has already claimed more than 40,000 lives since it erupted in March 2011.
“We are not in the business of regime change. Some of the regional players were suggesting to us ‘Why don’t you tell President Assad to leave? We will arrange for some safe haven for him’,” Reuters quoted Russia’s veteran Foreign Minister saying in an interview with state-owned Russia Today English-language TV channel.
“My answer is very simple: if indeed those who suggested this to us have this in mind, they should take it directly to President Assad. Why should they use us as a postman? If President Assad is interested, this must be discussed directly with him,” he said in comments recorded on Wednesday.
Russia, along with China, has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have pressed Damascus to end the bloodshed.
It has insisted it is not protecting Assad, but wants to ensure that Syrians themselves can decide their fate without any external meddling, especially foreign military intervention.
Moscow says it will not allow a repeat of last year’s events in Libya, where NATO helped rebels topple Muammar Qaddafi after Russia let through a Security Council resolution that was used as a pretext for military action.
Putin says no to ‘chaos’ in Syria
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia does not want “chaos” in Syria and that it looked forward to seeing a democratic regime in the war-torn nation.
“We will try to pursue the public order in Syria and look forward to a democratic regime in Syria because this country is close to our borders,” he said at a news conference closing an EU-Russia summit, according to an English translation of his words.
“We wouldn’t like chaos in that country,” he added. “Everyone is interested in stopping the violence and the bloodshed.”
Putin for the second time in two days denied propping up the regime of President Assad and appeared to acknowledge the possibility of change, saying: “We do not advocate the government of Syria.”
He insisted however that a solution must be found between all parties at the negotiating table to take into account the views "of all the citizens."
In Moscow the previous day Putin said Russia was not concerned about Assad’s fate but “we understand that the family has been in power for 40 years and there is a need for change.”
EU president Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, said all options are open to support Syria’s opposition, Al Arabiya TV reported Friday. While the EU has recognized Syria’s new opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syria people, it has been reluctant to aid it with weapons.
In Syria, clashes between Syrian opposition fighters and regime forces continue.
Syria opposition fighters on Friday fired warning shots at an airliner preparing to take off from Aleppo airport in the first direct attack on a civilian flight since the uprising in Syria began 21 months ago, an opposition commander said.
The commander, who gave his name only as Khaldoun, told Reuters by Skype that snipers from his brigade had hit the wheels of Syrian Airways flight RB201 on Thursday.
“Those were warning shots,” he said, adding that the plane had been unable to take off. “We wanted to send a message to the regime that all their planes - military and civilian - are within our reach.”
There were no immediate reports of the incident on Syrian state media.
Rebels accuse the government of using civilian aircraft to transport weapons and Iranian fighters they say are helping President Assad’s forces. Insurgents have cut off many of the road links to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.
Fighting around Damascus has made the road to the capital’s international airport unsafe for traffic. Foreign airlines have stopped flying there. According to flight schedules, the Cairo-bound RB201 usually flies from Damascus rather than Aleppo.
“What happened with Damascus airport will happen to Aleppo, even if the price is higher,” Khaldoun said in reference to battles convulsing Aleppo since July.
Another rebel urged civilians not to use Aleppo airport or Syrian Air flights “as they will be targets from now on.”