Announcing that it is not taking sides in the Syrian crisis, Russia is calling for an immediate ceasefire in order to let the Annan Plan bring about the necessary conditions for lasting peace.
Dismissing Western criticism of Russia’s adherence to the Annan Plan, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s call for both sides in the 16-month conflict to lay down their arms and enter into peace talks.
"In order to halt the violence, both sides in the conflict must be forced simultaneously to cease hostilities, synchronize withdrawal of heavy weaponry from cities and place all armed people under the UN mission's control," Lavrov told a press conference on Monday.
Russia’s staunch defense of the Annan Plan was given a boost as Kofi Annan, UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, began a two-day visit to the Russian capital. During the talks, Moscow will also be negotiating vigorously for an extension of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria.
Lavrov said Annan’s visit underscores Russia’s dedication to enforcing “the six-point peace plan, which involves a political diplomatic settlement of the Syrian conflict."
Annan will meet with President Putin on Tuesday, the Russian minister added.
Meanwhile, Lavrov did not miss an opportunity to address Russia’s detractors – specifically the United States – which, he said, seeks to “blame” Russia and China for the ongoing hostilities in Syria.
"It is not right to blame the situation [in Syria] on Russia and China, to say nothing about threats like 'they are going to pay for this'," he said.
Earlier this month, Clinton told an international conference: “The only way that will change (Russia and China supporting Syria) is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price.”
Lavrov slammed the remarks as “undiplomatic” and “simply uncivilized.”
The Russian minister then criticized Moscow's western partners for provoking a civil war in the country.
"Some of my Western colleagues even proposed that the resolution [the Western draft resolution that mentions Chapter 7 of the UN Charter] declare an economic, financial and communication blockade against the Syrian government,” the minister said. “In other words, even talks with [the Syrian government] are ruled out.”
"This is a direct invitation to a civil war, not the implementation of the Geneva communique," Lavrov declared.
Stressing that Russia is not supporting the Syrian government in the conflict, Lavrov said Moscow wants all parties to follow the set of internationally-accepted proposals for ending the violence.
"We are not supporting Bashar al-Assad,” he said bluntly. “We are supporting what everybody has agreed upon: Kofi Annan's plan, the Security Council resolution and the Geneva communique, and we fully support these documents."
Lavrov added the caveat that the proposals for bringing about the conditions for peace must not be manipulated by outside parties.
"These documents can only be implemented entirely, and not in individual parts that someone might be favoring," the minister said. "We shall accept any decision by the Syrian people as to who will run Syria, as long as it is a decision made by the Syrian people themselves."
What began in March 2011 as pockets of public protests in Syria has swelled into a violent conflict that is pitting an armed opposition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who assumed leadership in 2000.
In keeping with Moscow’s efforts to engage both sides in the conflict, Lavrov met prominent Syrian opposition activist Michael Kilo in Moscow on July 9; the negotiation process continued two days later when Lavrov held talks with Abdel Basset Sayda, the head of the oppositional Syrian National Council (SNC).
Meanwhile, Lavrov downplayed the defection of some Syrian officials and military personnel, saying such incidences would not affect Russia's attitude to the Syrian settlement.
"Such things [as the defection of government supporters to the opposition] happen,” he said. "There is no magic figure when a certain number of defectors would mean a radical change in the situation.”
Russia is more concerned about the future of the Syrian people than individual generals diplomats, the minister added.
Lavrov revealed one of the problems hindering the peace process, which involved members of the armed opposition being encouraged "to reject any proposals of ceasefire or truce, to put forward unilateral demands so that the government would disarm unilaterally."
“The [Syrian government] will not do that, everyone understands that perfectly well," he concluded.