Russia to Syria opposition: Your obsession with Assad blocks peace
MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday lashed out at the Syrian opposition for its "obsession" with toppling President Bashar al-Assad which he said was holding up peace efforts in the country.
"For now, everything is running up against the opposition's obsession with toppling Bashar Assad's regime," Lavrov told reporters at his traditional start-of-year news conference.
"As long as this irreconcilable position remains in place, nothing good can happen. Armed actions will continue and people will die."
He said that the opposition's insistence on ousting Assad was styming efforts to find a diplomatic solution backed by the former international peace envoy Kofi Annan and his successor Lakhdar Brahimi.
Lavrov took particular aim at the Syria National Coalition -- a broad-based group backed by the West founded in Doha last year -- for seeking the toppling of Assad as one of its fundamental aims.
Over almost two years of conflict that the United Nations estimates has already cost more than 60,000 lives, Russia has cooled on Assad but has vehemently resisted Western pressure to call on him to quit.
"Our priority is not reaching a geo-political aim -- like the toppling of the Assad regime -- but a stabilisation of the situation and a rapid end to the bloodshed to save Syrian lives," said Lavrov.
His comments came a day after a top Russian official raised the prospect of a protracted conflict in Syria in which neither Assad nor the rebels would gain the upper hand.
"The situation can develop in different ways. I think it could become protracted in nature," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.