Russia to blame for Syria’s suffering says opposition leader

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The head of a prominent Syrian opposition group has strongly criticised Russia’s position on the country’s conflict during a visit to Moscow.

Hours after meeting Russia’s foreign minister yesterday, Syrian National Council leader Abdelbaset Sieda told a news conference that: “The Syrian people are suffering because of Russia, because of the position it has taken, because of its veto in the UN Security Council.”

Russia opposes international intervention in the conflict that activists say has killed more than 17,000 people and has used its veto power to block UN condemnations of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Mr Sieda also said the SNC is demanding that “all representatives of the ruling regime” in Syria step down and no dialogue with the regime is possible until president Bashar Assad leaves power.

The SNC delegation met Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with the aim of pushing Russia to accept the Syrian president’s removal as part of a political transition.

Mr Sieda called for an intervention by the UN to bring a halt to the violence.

Russia insists that any political transition have the consent of both Mr Assad’s government and the opposition.

After the meeting, Mr Lavrov said: “Syrians themselves must determine their fate.”

He also expressed hope that there would be “a unification of all the (Syrian) opposition groups” to negotiate with the regime.

The arrival of the Syrian delegation raised hopes that the Russian government was entering a new phase of engagement with the opposition. On Monday, Russia said it would sell no new weapons to the Assad regime.

But on Tuesday, Russia said it was sending 11 warships to the Mediterranean, some of which would dock at the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a maintenance and operations base.

Russia has circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would extend the UN observer force in Syria but focus its activities on trying to achieve a political solution to the conflict.