MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday there could be no peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria as long as opponents of President Bashar Assad demand his exit from power and refuse to negotiate with his government.
Lavrov's comments at an annual news conference signaled no shift in the position of Russia, which says Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a deal to end 22 months of violence in which more than 60,000 people have been killed.
"Everything runs up against the opposition members' obsession with the idea of the overthrow of the Assad regime. As long as this irreconcilable position remains in force, nothing good will happen, armed action will continue, people will die," Lavrov said.
Russia has been Assad's most powerful foreign protector during the violence that started with a crackdown on protests but has escalated into civil war, vetoing three UN Security Council resolution aimed to push him out or pressure him to end bloodshed.
Russia flew 77 of its citizens fleeing the Syrian violence to Moscow via Lebanon on Wednesday but Lavrov said the situation in Syria did not require a mass evacuation of Russian citizens.
Speaking of large-scale naval exercises Russia is holding in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean Sea, not far from Syria, Lavrov said the naval presence was a positive factor.
"Of course we have no interest in the Mediterranean region becoming even more destabilized. And the presence of our fleet there is undoubtedly a stabilizing factor," Lavrov said.