Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has warned that while Syria may be on the brink of civil war, Russia continues to oppose international military intervention in the country.
“You cannot do anything by force,” he told reporters in Berlin on Friday, after he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks in which they stressed they sought a “political solution” to the crisis.
“Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war,” Putin said. “It is extremely dangerous.”
He also hit back at suggestions that Moscow was supplying arms to the Syrian government to use against a sometimes violent opposition movement.
“As far as arms supplies are concerned, Russia does not supply the weapons that could be used in a civil conflict,” he said, adding that his country was not siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the uprising against him.
Putin said that he and Merkel had discussed the importance of establishing a mechanism for a negotiated solution to the crisis in Syria.
“The latest massacre in Houla showed once again how terrible the human and human rights situation is in Syria,” Merkel said at the joint news conference.
“We both made clear that we want a political solution, and that the Annan plan can be a starting point, but we must work with all our energy and force, particularly in the UN Security Council, on implementing this plan and if necessary developing other political actions.”
Merkel also said that she and Putin had spoken about the development of “democratic diversity” in Russia.
Earlier, Merkel welcomed Putin in Berlin with military honours ahead of their talks, as a small group of shouting and whistling protesters rallied outside.
Visit to France
Putin left Germany for France, where he met Francois Hollande, the new French president.
In Paris, he said that it would be premature to call Joint UN-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan a failure.
Hollande, meanwhile, said that no solution was possible in Syria without “the departure of Bashar al-Assad”, whose government he said had “conducted itself in an unacceptable and intolerable manner”.
Putin’s meetings with Merkel and Hollande are part of his first foreign trip since returning to the Russian presidency.
The visit to the 17-nation eurozone’s two biggest economies, after a stop in Belarus on Thursday, reflects a policy course driven primarily by Russia’s economic interests.
Germany and France, both members of the UN Security Council, were expected to attempt to get Putin to modify Russia’s position on the escalating Syrian crisis.
Even so, there’s little sign that the Russian president is prepared to tighten the diplomatic screws on Assad.
Russia, along with China, has twice shielded the Syrian president regime from UN sanctions over his crackdown on protests.
Syria is Russia’s last ally in the region, providing Moscow with its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union and serving as a top customer for Russian weapons manufacturers.
Germany and France are among Western powers that sought to isolate Assad further by expelling Syrian ambassadors after the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla provoked international outrage.
Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesman, said this week that the chancellor would try to convince the Russians “to ensure, like us, that the right decisions regarding the Assad regime are made at the UN”.