MOSCOW - Russian warnings to the West and its Arab allies to keep their hands off Syria hide a slight chance for compromise on a UN resolution aimed at halting bloodshed in the country, but a demand for President Bashar Assad to step aside could be a deal-breaker.
With Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin facing the biggest protests of his 12-year rule and planning to return to the Kremlin in a March presidential vote, Russia wants to avoid stamping its approval on any regime change engineered from outside.
Moscow has been busy drawing "red lines" as it comes under pressure to stop shielding its old ally Assad and to use its power as a veto-wielding U.N. Security Council member to push Damascus into ending the crackdown which has killed thousands of civilians.
Russia has erected a wall of noise, emphasizing it opposes sanctions against Syria - a major customer for its arms - and making clear it will block any attempt for the Council to endorse military intervention.
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