Russia on Tuesday said it will support a United Nations resolution on former secretary general Kofi Annan’s plan for resolving the violent crisis in Syria.
However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cautioned that his government's endorsement of the plan shouldn't be construed as an “ultimatum” to the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who is a close ally of Russia.
The [U.N.] Security Council should support [Kofi Annan’s plan] not as an ultimatum, but as a basis for the continuing efforts by Kofi Annan aimed at reaching accord between all the Syrians -- the government and all opposition groups -- on all key issues, such as humanitarian corridors, halting hostilities by all parties, the beginning of a political dialogue and offering access to the media, Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.
Russia, a staunch ally of Assad's, has already vetoed two previous U.N. resolutions that condemned the Syrian regime and urged the president to step down. It now appears Lavrov and other Russian officials may have grown impatient with Assad as the crackdown on dissidents in Syria continues to escalate.
In an earlier speech before Russia's parliament, Lavrov criticized Assad for failing to enact reforms and for fomenting a situation that could add to strife throughout the Middle East.
We are supporting the need to start a political process, and to do that it's necessary to have a cease-fire first, Lavrov said. Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way.
Russia earlier urged Assad to allow international humanitarian aid workers access to the devastated Syrian city of Homs to treat victimes wounded in the crackdown.
Annan, who retried as secretary general in 2006 and is now a special U.N. and Arab League envoy, met with Assad twice in Syria's capital, Damascus, over the past month to propose an end to the crisis. Details of the plan haven't been made public, but Lavrov suggested that it doesn't include a clause calling for Assad’s resignation -- a condition many Western and Arab nations demand.
The Security Council is to meet later Tuesday in New York to debate further measures against Assad in the event he rejects Annan’s peace plan.
At least 8,000 people have died in the government’s brutal crackdown on dissidents and civilians that began in March 2011, while tens of thousands of others have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The current U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, again blasted Assad, telling peacekeepers in Indonesia on Tuesday: We have no time to waste, no time to lose. Just one minute, or one hour of delay will mean that more and more people dead. This is our, moral and critical responsibility for the international community.”
Separately, in response to reported sightings of a Russian navy oil tanker off Syria's coast, Lavrov said the ship had been sent to the region to help other Russian vessels on anti-piracy missions. The Russian minister denied accusations that the tanker was there to assist the Syrian regime’s military.