Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting with foreign journalists at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow March 1, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied Russia had a special relationship with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and called for a ceasefire to end the bloody conflict with the rebels.
With pressure mounting on Moscow to harden its line against Assad, Putin in talks with foreign news executives late Thursday rejected the idea that Moscow was taking sides in what he described as an "armed civilian conflict".
"Our aim is not to help one of the sides -- not the Syrian authorities nor the armed opposition -- but to obtain an all round reconciliation," he said in comments published on the government website Friday.
"We have no special relationship with Syria," he added at the meeting at his suburban Moscow residence.
"Our principle is not to encourage the sides in an armed conflict but make them sit down at the negotiating table and agree acceptable terms for a ceasefire and to stop the human losses," Putin said.
Russia in February outraged the West by vetoing, along with China, a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime for the violence.
Some analysts saw that defiant move as a warning from Putin to Western states that Russia would pursue a tough foreign policy if, as expected, he returns to the Kremlin after Sunday's presidential elections.