Putin Sees Signs of Syria Civil War, Says Supporting Neither Side

Posted on: June 01, 2012 at 23:12
Germany and Russia agreed on the need for a political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria, their leaders said after talks here Friday, as Vladimir Putin warned the country could be on the brink of civil war.

The Russian president said the situation in strife-wracked Syria was ''extremely dangerous'' but underlined his opposition to military intervention, after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the second leg of his first foreign tour since returning to the Kremlin.

Amid mounting pressure for Moscow to drop its resistance to tougher U.N. action on Syria, Putin, who was later due in Paris, warned at a joint press conference with Merkel: ''You cannot do anything by force.''

''Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war,'' he said after arriving in Berlin from Belarus. ''It is extremely dangerous.''

Putin's brief trips to Berlin and Paris come amid mounting outrage in the West against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime after a massacre of 108 people, including women and children, in the town of Houla last week.

U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay said the massacre could be a crime against humanity.

''We both made clear that we are pushing for a political solution, that the Annan plan can be a starting point but that everything must be done in the United Nations Security Council to implement this plan,'' Merkel said, referring to a peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Her comments set a more conciliatory tone after the United States criticised Moscow over its stance on Syria and new French President Francois Hollande, who meets Putin later in Paris, refused to rule out foreign military intervention as long as it is carried out with U.N. backing.

Putin said Moscow was not taking sides in the deadly strife rocking Syria, where the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 13,000 people have been killed since Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown on the opposition in March last year.

''To find a political solution of these problems. Can it be done or not? On the whole, I believe it is possible,'' Putin told reporters. ''It requires certain professionalism and patience. You cannot do anything by force and expect an immediate effect,'' he said.

But he added: ''A lot of people are involved in the conflict with various interests. There is a need to find a convergence of these interests and have them sit down at a negotiating table. That's the direction we are going to work in.''

Merkel earlier greeted Putin with military honors as demonstrators waving Syrian flags shouted and whistled outside.

Another protestor held a banner in the shape of a Russian flag with the Russian words ''Putin is a thief'' emblazoned across it.

''We were agreed that every country -- I said this for the Federal Republic of Germany -- must do everything to prevent a civil war and prevent more people suffering,'' Merkel told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said Syria was on the verge of a civil war and risked collapsing into sectarian strife after meeting members of the Syrian opposition based in Istanbul.

Germany, France, Britain, the United States and other Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest at the slaughter in Houla.

Syria allies China and Russia, which have both blocked previous attempts at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Damascus, joined other council members on Sunday in backing a statement condemning the Houla killings.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned that Russia's policy of propping up the Assad regime could contribute to a civil war and even lead to a wider proxy war because of Iran's support for Damascus.

The United States also condemned as ''reprehensible'' Russian arms deliveries to Syria, but Putin hit back Friday at suggestions Moscow was supplying weapons for use in Syria.

''As far as arms supplies are concerned, Russia does not supply the weapons that could be used in a civil conflict,'' Putin told reporters.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper Friday that Russia should recognize that efforts to halt the violence in Syria were ''not working against Russian strategic interests.''

''We must not give the impression in this difficult situation that military intervention is the road to a quick fix,'' he said as his spokesman announced he would soon make a trip to the region.

Amnesty International demanded that Putin immediately stop Russian weapons deliveries to Syria, while Human Rights Watch called for Putin to make human rights a priority at home and abroad.

Source:Agence France Presse
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