Russia said on Tuesday Arab League monitors are playing a stabilising role in Syria, disagreeing with Syrian opposition figures who say the mission has only given President Bashar al-Assad more time to crush opponents.
Moscow welcomed an Arab League decision to continue the two-week-old mission to monitor implementation of the government's pledge to stop a crackdown the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 people in ten months of protests.
Their deployment is already exerting a stabilising influence on the situation and helping to provide a truthful and objective picture of what is happening, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement posted on www.mid.ru said of the observers.
It repeated Russian calls for dialogue between Assad's government and his opponents.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Arab League observers to focus their efforts on the actions of both Syrian authorities and protesters during their mission.
Top-priority attention of the (Arab League) mission in Syria should be also drawn ... to the disruptive activities of armed groups, which the opposition needs to decisively dissociate itself from, the ministry said in a statement on a phone conversation with Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.
Russia has maintained support for the increasingly isolated Assad, whose nation has been one of Moscow's closest strategic partners in the Middle East and a big customer for its weapons.
After a review meeting on Sunday, the Arab League said Damascus had only partly carried out a pledge to stop the bloodshed, free detainees and withdraw troops from cities that have been hotbeds of anti-Assad unrest. It said the number of observers would grow to 200 this week from 165.
Opposition figures said on Monday the presence of the mission was counterproductive, giving Damascus more time to suppress its adversaries violently. There has been no apparent reduction in the bloodshed since monitors arrived on December 26.
In his first public speech for over six months, Assad on Tuesday blamed foreign planning for the uprising and vowed to strike terrorists with an iron fist.
Moscow used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council in October, along with China, to block a Western-crafted resolution that would have helped to isolate Assad's government by condemning its iron fist policy towards dissent.
Russian warships docked at a Russian naval maintenance and supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus over the weekend, Russian and Syrian media reported.
Moscow angered opponents of Assad when the Foreign Ministry indicated it accepted the Arab League observer mission chief's initial assessment that the situation in Syria was reassuring, a statement met with strong scepticism by Western nations.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)