Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pictured in Moscow, on December 17, 2012
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a meeting with his visiting Poland's counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski in Moscow, on December 17, 2012. Russia said on Monday it would be "political suicide" for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if it used chemical weapons against the armed opposition. © Kirill Kudryavtsev - AFP
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pictured in Moscow, on December 17, 2012
AFP
Last updated: December 24, 2012

Russia: "political suicide" if Assad uses chemical weapons

Russia said Monday it would be "political suicide" for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to use chemical weapons against the armed opposition.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview released by the English-language state television channel RT that Assad had given Moscow repeated assurances he had no plans to order such an attack.

"I do not believe Syria would use chemical weapons," Lavrov said in comments translated by the channel into English. "It would be a political suicide for the government if it does."

Russia has remained Syria's main ally throughout 21 months of bloodshed that an opposition monitoring group says has claimed more than 44,000 lives.

It scuttled three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against Assad and condemned Washington for recognising the Syrian opposition as the legitimate voice of the country's citizens.

Moscow's position has frustrated Western attempts to end the bloodshed by forcing Assad from power. Washington has also slammed Moscow's continued military ties with Damascus.

But Russia remains one of the only nations to maintain constant contact with Assad -- a status the West has urged it to use to pressure the Syrian strongman to cede power.

Lavrov said Moscow checks on every report about the movement of Syrian chemical weapons with Damascus in order to make sure there was no danger of their possible use.

"Every time we hear rumours, or pieces of information come to surface that the Syrians are doing something with the chemical weapons, we double-check, we triple-check, we go directly to the government and all the time we get very firm assurances that this is not going to be used under any circumstances," Lavrov said.

The Russian leadership has recently been releasing comments that suggest an easing of support for Assad.

Moscow's chief Middle East envoy said earlier this month that Russia realised that Assad may not be able to stand up against the rebel resistance much longer.

President Vladimir Putin said on two occasions last week that Moscow had no intention of propping up the Assad regime despite existing military ties between the two nations.

And the foreign ministry issued a formal statement on Monday confirming that Russia was preparing for the possibility of an evacuation of its remaining citizens in Syria.

"If necessary, Russian citizens will be offered corresponding assistance and support, including in case of a decision to evacuate," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russian news reports said the navy had earlier in the day ordered two amphibian landing ships to the region as part of a larger flotilla.

Moscow continues to press for a diplomatic solution to the conflict despite few signs of any dialogue leading to progress on the ground.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Syrian peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi could visit Moscow before the end of the week following his talks Monday in Damascus with Assad.

He said the two sides would "exchange views about the evolving situation in Syria."

"We hope that (the talks) bring concrete results and help resolve the stalemate," Interfax quoted Gatilov as saying.

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