Russian FM: Western stance on Syria "immoral"

Russian FM: Western stance on Syria "immoral"

MOSCOW - The Associated Press
Russian FM: Western stance on Syria immoral

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds a news conference after a NATO-Russia foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels December 8, 2011. REUTERS Photo

Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday angrily accused the West of taking an "immoral" stance on Syria by pressuring President Bashar Assad while refusing to condemn violence by what he called "armed extremist groups" trying to oust the Arab strongman.

Sergey Lavrov also rebuffed calls on Moscow to back sanctions against Syria, where a nine-month-long government crackdown on a popular uprising is estimated to have killed more than 5,000 people. He did, however, back the Arab League's push to send observers to the country, which some fear is on the verge of civil war.

Russia has had strong ties with Syria since Soviet times, supplying it with weapons and gaining a conduit for influence in the Middle East. Moscow as well as Beijing have resisted the push by the U.S. and other Western nations for U.N. sanctions on Assad's regime as it tries to crush the uprising inspired by similar movements in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states.

Westerners "refuse to raise the pressure on the armed extremist flank of the (Syrian) opposition, and at the same time accuse us of blocking the United Nations Security Council's work," Lavrov said at a news conference after talks with Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci. "I would call such a stance immoral." "We stand for a resolute action, but the one that is aimed at searching for ways to achieve peace, not raising one-sided pressure," he said. "A resolute approach mustn't be selective, it must be aimed at achieving peace." Lavrov added that armed groups attacking Syrian government forces are "aiming to provoke a humanitarian catastrophe and get a pretext for demanding an outside
interference into the conflict." "When our Western partners publicly describe such action by militant groups as a reflection of the Syrian people's democratic aspirations and their fight against dictatorship, that sounds inadequate, to say the least," he said.

He added that Moscow has doubts about the sincerity of assurances from Western governments that they doesn't back the repetition of the "Libyan scenario." Libyan rebels ousted their country's strongman, Moammar Gadhafi, earlier this year thanks in large part to the military backing of NATO.

Russian diplomats have met with prominent Syrian opposition leaders in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade them to sit down for talks with the government. Lavrov said Moscow also has advised Syria to accept Arab League observers as quickly as possible. He said that observers from Russia, Brazil, India and China may also join the Arab League monitors.