There is less difference between the Russian and Western stances on the Syrian crisis than is perceived because both Moscow and its Western partners would like to avoid a large-scale civil war in the violence-hit Middle Eastern country, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.
“Despite perceived differences, the positions of Russia, Britain and the US are not as strikingly different as sometimes suggested,” Medvedev told the Times newspaper during his visit to London where he attended the opening of the Olympic Games July 27.
“We all start from the position that the worst outcome would be a full civil war in Syria,” Medvedev said, according to the transcript of the interview published on his official website in Russian.
He said there had already been a “presentiment” of such a war and that both sides were guilty because they did not want to “listen to each other and sit at the negotiating table”.
Despite the continuing violence in Syria, a peace plan proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is still viable, Medvedev said.
He told British Prime Minister David Cameron during their meeting on the sidelines of the Olympics that he had asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a year ago to “act promptly, carry out reforms, and most importantly, find a key to cooperate with the opposition”.
“I don’t know what exactly the political balance in Syria will look like in the future, and what sort of position Assad would have in it. That must be decided by the Syrian people,” said Medvedev.
While Russia believes that the only way to settle the crisis is through political dialogue between the Assad government and opposition groups, “our Western partners are urging us to support a more decisive action”, Medvedev said.
“But the question arises: Where do resolutions end and military actions begin?”
The example of Libya, where a NATO operation helped oust longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi last year after Russia did not use its veto right in the UN Security Council to block such an operation, has “certainly” influenced Russia’s position on Syria, he said.
“Despite the fact that we are all committed to democratic values, democracy imposed from outside is usually not effective,” he said.
“Democracy should ripen inside, and only this way will it have broad public support,” the Russian prime minister said.
Russia has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions against Assad, most recently July 19, fearing a repetition of a “Libyan scenario” in Syria.
Since March 2011, the Syrian conflict has claimed 14,000-20,000 lives, according to estimates by Syrian opposition groups.