Assad must pull out troops first: Russia

2012-03-23 10:04

Moscow - Syrian President Bashar Assad must take the first step toward settling his country's yearlong conflict by pulling his forces out of cities and allowing humanitarian assistance, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Thursday, in a statement that signalled a marked shift in Moscow's stance.

The comments by Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected chairperson of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, indicated Moscow's increasing impatience with Assad and its eagerness to raise pressure on an old ally.

"Syrian President Bashar Assad must urgently fix numerous mistakes that he has made, according to Russia's official position," Margelov said, according to the ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies.

Commenting on Wednesday's statement by the United Nations Security Council that spelled out UN mediator Kofi Annan's proposals, including guaranteed humanitarian access and the pullout of government forces from Syrian cities and towns, Margelov said that Assad should now act first.

"Assad must take the first step," Margelov was quoted as saying. "He must pull out the Syrian army from big cities. It's also necessary to deliver humanitarian assistance to the areas affected by fighting."

That is a departure from Russia's previous position that both the government and opposition forces need to simultaneously withdraw from cities.

Annan to visit Moscow

The Syrian government has insisted that the opposition should be the first to end hostilities, while the West has demanded that Assad's military halts its offense first, followed by the opposition.

Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Assad from United Nations' sanctions over his crackdown on an uprising in which more than 8 000 people have been killed. But Moscow also has strongly supported a plan to settle the crisis by Annan, the former UN secretary-general who is the joint UN and Arab League envoy for Syria.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Thursday that Annan will visit Moscow in the next "couple of days" to discuss the settlement.

Bogdanov said that Russia will also play host to a Syrian opposition delegation, including members of the National Co-ordination Committee, one of Syria's two main opposition groups, in Moscow in the next few days. He said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with them.

Speaking before Russian parliament last week, Lavrov criticised Assad for being too slow to implement long-needed reforms and warned that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control.

He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the "unproportionate" use of force by government troops and said Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.

Humanitarian assessment

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said she was continuing to press for unhindered access for humanitarian organisations, including pro-opposition areas.

Technical staff from UN agencies and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation are part of a government-led humanitarian assessment mission of humanitarian needs that began on March 18.

Amos said in a statement that the UN and other humanitarian partners will do their own independent analysis of the assessment and finalise a preliminary response plan to help people in desperate need.

  • Jaba - 2012-03-23 10:10

    No Assad must stop killing his people first: Me

  • Africa21stcentury - 2012-03-23 11:05

    After this assad been slaughtering his opposition for ONE YEAR, and over 9000 (NINE THOUSAND ) killed, Russia is coming to its senses.....!!!! The problem in Syria; this TERRORIST assad !!!!!

  • Sean - 2012-03-23 11:52

    The russians have finally donre the right thing. The truth is that the Syrian opposition only started using violence after Assad showed his willingness to crush peacefull protests with overwhelming military force. Assad is the instigator of the violence and he must stop. Then he must get out of power so that the Syrian people can dtermine their own future in peace.

  • Konstabel - 2012-03-23 13:29

    UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR: "Syrian President Bashar Assad must urgently fix numerous mistakes that he has made, according to Russia's official position," Margelov said

  • Fred - 2012-03-23 15:33

    Such a dishonest, mafia-like regime. They're selling arms to Assad while making these statements. The world should disregard them and move forward. It should not be held to ransom by such people, while Syrians are being slaughtered with Russian-made arms.

  • phathuchicos - 2012-03-23 16:03

    finally...what were the russians on this days? maybe high on vodka...

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