Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized the West for backing the Syrian opposition against the government, saying it has fuelled the conflict.

Putin said on Friday that both the Syrian government and opposition forces must pull out of the cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of the opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad has encouraged them to keep fighting.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a cabinet meeting in Moscow Thursday, a day before he criticized the West for backing the Syrian opposition against the government. (RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Government Press Service/AP)

"Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?" Putin said at a meeting with editors of top Western newspapers in remarks carried by state television. "Is it a balanced approach?"

Putin refused to speculate on Assad's chance to hold on to power, saying that reforms in Syria have been long overdue and it's unclear whether the government and the opposition could find a consensus.

Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East. Moscow has maintained close ties with Damascus since the Cold War, when Syria was led by the current leader's father, Hafez Assad.

Putin insisted that Russia's opposition to the United Nations resolution condemning Assad is rooted not in its economic interests, but a desire to help end hostilities.

He defended last month's Russia-China veto of a UN resolution condemning Assad's crackdown on protests, saying that Moscow wants o prevent the replay of what happened in Libya, where a NATO air campaign helped Libyans oust Moammar Gadhafi.

Putin said that while Gadhafi's regime was "crazy," its ouster led to massive killings of civilians. He said Russia wants the parties to the conflict in Syria to "find a consensus and stop killing each other."

"Instead of encouraging parties to the conflict, it's necessary to force them to sit down for talks and begin political procedures and political reforms that would be acceptable for all participants in the conflict," he said.

Putin also reaffirmed a strong warning against an attack on Iran.

"For us, it will have extremely negative consequences," he said, adding that a strike on Iran will likely trigger a flow of refugees into Russia.