Russian President Dmitry Medvedev extended complete support to the UN-Arab League envoy in Syria, saying that Kofi Annan's resolution represented the last chance for preventing the violent insurgency from turning into a civil war. Medvedev's strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came close on the heels of US President Barack Obama announcing his plans to send non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition.
Russia, which has retained close ties with Syria since the Soviet era and is currently supplying arms to the Assad regime, has been under tremendous international pressure to discontinue the arms deal in the wake of violent government crackdown on the Syrian rebels.
Moscow approved a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ultimatum last week that warned Assad of further steps if he failed to comply with the international efforts led by Annan to restore normalcy in the country. Russia had earlier blocked two UNSC resolutions blaming Assad for the violence.
Annan's six-point plan for the resolution of the conflict included a daily two-hour ceasefire, talks between the government and the opposition and troop withdrawals.
This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war, Medvedev told Annan at a meeting in Moscow before the former's departure for a summit in Seoul, Agence France-Presse reported . We will be offering you our full support at any level at which we have a say, he said.
Annan has requested Moscow to play an active role in ensuring Syrian participation in the UNSC-backed proposal.
Russia, holding on its anti-interventionist approach, has long-justified its pro-Syrian stand saying that Syria's protests are an internal matter that should be handled domestically.
According to the UN estimate, more than 9,000 people have been killed and about 230,000 forced to flee the country ever since the violent revolution erupted in March last year.
International pressure on Syria continued to build as the European Union governments decided to impose sanctions on Assad's British-born wife Asma al-Assad who is in the news for her extravagant splurges on luxurious goods at a time when thousands were being killed by the army.
Asma will face a travel ban and freezing of her assets and bank accounts in the EU member nations. She will also be prohibited from shopping online from any outlets based in the EU. However, the Syrian first lady can still travel to Britain, if she has retained her British citizenship.
The recent turnaround in Russian policy is largely attributed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's controversial victory in the recent presidential election.
According to a report in the Moscow Times, the Syrian President commanded unconditional support from Russia prior to the presidential election. It has been alleged that Russia's support for Syria was part of Putin's gimmick of mobilizing the electorate by exploiting the anti-US sentiments of the Russian population. Following Putin's victory in the election, Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow was not defending Assad at all.
It is no coincidence that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took satisfaction in announcing on March 14 (more than two weeks after the Putin's victory) that the Russian and U.S. positions on Syria have moved considerably closer, Moscow Times wrote.