MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said Friday that decision by Western nations to support the Syrian opposition in its battle to oust President Bashar Assad would only intensify the two-year conflict.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that moves announced in Rome on Thursday "in spirit and in letter directly encourage extremists to seize power by force, despite the inevitable sufferings of ordinary Syrians that entails."
The Obama administration said it would provide non-lethal aid directly to Syrian rebels, while also announcing an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria's political opposition. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and senior officials from 11 other countries most active in calling for Assad's ouster signed a statement saying they had agreed on "the need to change the balance of power on the ground."
Britain and France, which Kerry visited earlier this week as part of his first official trip as secretary of state, have signaled they want to supply rebels with defensive military equipment. The European Union still bars the provision of weapons and ammunition to anyone in Syria, but is expected to issue new guidance in the near future.
In Moscow, a onetime close confidant of Assad who defected last year said Friday that Russia and the United States could act as co-guarantors of a ceasefire in Syria. Manaf Tlass, a former elite army commander in town for talks with senior Russian officials, said that Russia and the United States could act as co-guarantors of a ceasefire in Syria.
"We need Russia and the U.S., who would support the Syrian people and could put pressure on the regime. If that happens it will be the way out and will be good for the Syrian people," Tlass said outside the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Tlass added that Assad's possible resignation was not up for discussion, saying, "there should be no dictatorial regimes in the modern world." Throughout the two-year conflict, during which over 70,000 have died, Russia has shielded Assad's regime at the U.N. Security Council from sanctions. Moscow also has rejected calls for Assad to quit, saying his government and rebels should pursue talks.
Nonetheless, Russia has signaled it may be prepared to take a more conciliatory stance in recent months as prospects for Assad's regime to hold on have dimmed. Most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Moscow should listen to Western arguments for solving the crisis after meeting his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, on Thursday.