Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned the West against taking any military action in Syria, as the Middle Eastern country awaits the results of a crucial referendum on the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
The warning comes despite reassurances from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said foreign intervention would only lead to a civil war.
I very much hope the United States and other countries ... do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council, Putin said in a statement ahead of this Sunday's presidential election in Russia.
Putin criticized the NATO operation that helped rebels in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi. Learning from that bitter experience, we are against any U.N. Security Council resolutions that could be interpreted as a signal for military interference in domestic processes in Syria, Reuters quoted the Russian official as saying.
China and Russia drew international condemnation earlier this month after vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on Assad to end his regime's bloody crackdown on opposition groups.
Putin's comments came as Clinton said any outside intervention would fuel more violence.
I think there is every possibility of a civil war. Outside intervention would not prevent that, it would probably expedite it, Clinton told BBC television in an interview.
We have a very dangerous set of actors in the region -- al Qaeda, Hamas and those who are on our terrorist list claiming to support the opposition, she said. You have many Syrians more worried about what could come next.
The exchange comes as Syrians went to the polls last week, voting on a referendum to end decades of one-party rule.
If enacted, the reforms would see the ruling Baath party removed as the official leader of state and society and reduce presidential incumbents to two seven year terms.
But in a bitter blow for reformers, it emerged the limit would not be enforced retrospectively, meaning that Assad, already in power for 11 years, could serve another two terms after his current one expires in 2014.
Demonstrators began their revolt against Assad's rule 11 months ago with a wave of mostly peaceful demonstrations.
But as a crackdown by the Syrian army became more violent, the protests grew into bloody exchanges between the opposition movement and government forces.
We have been trapped in our houses for 23 days. We cannot go out, except into some alleys. Markets, schools and government buildings are closed, and there is very little movement on the streets because of snipers, an activist in Homs, one of the worst affected cities, told Reuters Monday.