Russia won't pressure Assad to quit: Lavrov
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. AP PhotoRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Friday that Moscow will not push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit, saying it would be against Russian policy and in any case would be futile.
"It is not for us to decide who should lead Syria. It is for the Syrians to decide," Lavrov said in a BBC interview.
Asked if there was any chance of Russia urging its ally Assad to stand aside to end the two-year conflict in Syria, which the UN says has claimed 70,000 lives, Lavrov said: "Absolutely not. "You know that we are not in the regime-change game. We are against interference in domestic conflicts. This is our position, which should be of no surprise to anyone." Lavrov said the departure of Assad should not be a pre-condition for negotiations to end the conflict because it was highly unlikely to happen.
"He is not going to leave, we know this for sure -- all those who get in touch with him know that he is not bluffing," the Russian minister said emphasizing that the Syrian President “is not bluffing” about his determination to stay in power.
He added: "We have been against any pre-conditions to stop the violence and start the dialogue because we believe priority number one is to save lives."
The Russian foreign minister has also insisted that Russia’s arms supplies are limited to air defense weapons that ‘can’t be used in the Syrian war,’ and Moscow could consider steps toward demilitarizing the conflict.
Russia is Syria’s biggest arms supplier and has often been accused since the start of the conflict of providing weapons to President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime.
Lavrov said that Russian arms supplies are limited to air defense weapons that ‘can’t be used in this war,’ as well as a ‘couple of helicopters’ that ‘would not make a difference on the ground.’ He said last June that Syrian army helicopters were sent to Russia for maintenance.
Russia said last month it was delivering military hardware and light weapons to the Syrian government. The head of Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Anatoly Isaikin, said Russian deliveries to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad included air defense systems but not the advanced Iskander missiles sought by Damascus.
‘Demilitarization of the conflict is possible’
Lavrov also hinted that Russia could consider steps toward demilitarizing the conflict, but first wanted some “explanations” about foreign weapons supplies to the Syrian opposition.
Continuing arms supplies to opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hamper the demilitarization effort, Lavrov said. “We want some explanations: How exactly, on what exact routes, the supplies which are heading toward the opposition could be checked,” Lavrov said. “If we are provided such an answer…then, maybe, we can consider some steps to demilitarize this conflict. But so far, there has been nothing,” he said.