Russia has joined other countries at the Group of Eight (G8) in calling for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to step down -- and says it could help mediate his exit.
The move -- at a G8 summit in France -- marks a shift in tone for Moscow. Russia has been critical of NATO air strikes in the North African country, saying the bombardments went beyond the scope of the UN Security Council's resolution.
But a final statement from the summit says: "Qaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow is now "ready to admit" that Qaddafi must go.
"We believe that Colonel Qaddafi has forfeited legitimacy due to his actions. Indeed, we need to help him go," Ryabkov said.
Moscow's special representative to Africa, Mikhail Margelov, said both France and the United States had requested that Russia help mediate a diplomatic solution to the three-month-old civil war in Libya.
Ryabkov said Moscow would try to find a formula leading to an immediate cease-fire, which "for its part would pave the way for the end of the coalition's military operation" against Qaddafi's forces.
A U.S. official also confirmed that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev personally told U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G8 summit about the change in Moscow's position regarding Qaddafi. The U.S. official said the move by Russia proves that Obama's "reset" policy of warmer ties with Russia was bearing fruit.
The host of the G8 summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, led the call for Qaddafi to step down, saying: "Mr. Qaddafi is in control of his own situation. If he leaves, he will spare the Libyan people any more suffering. If he persists, he will face consequences."
Sarkozy also said G8 leaders had agreed to intensify "military intervention" against Libya in order to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized air strikes on Qaddafi's troops in order to protect Libyan civilians.
"[What is necessary is] the intensification of military intervention to protect the population under [UN Security Council] Resolution , and there is unanimity on this objective," Sarkozy said. "The statement regarding Mr. Qaddafi is particarly clear and very firm and it has been accepted by all members of the G8, including Russia."
British Prime Minister David Camera said at the conclusion of the two-day G8 summit that military operations against Qaddafi are now entering a "new phase." He said after talks with four other G8 countries involved in the operation during the last two months that there are now "signs that the momentum against Qaddafi is really building" and that "the regime is on the back foot."
Earlier on May 27, after bilateral talks with Sarkozy, Obama issued a strongly worded statement on Libya suggesting that the UN mandate of protecting Libyan civilians cannot be fulfilled as long as Muammar Qaddafi remains in power there.
"We agreed that we have made progress on our Libya campaign but that meeting the UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Qaddafi remains in Libya directing his forces in acts of aggression against the Libyan people, and we are joined in resolve to finish the job," Obama said.
NATO has been increasing pressure on Qaddafi's regime, carrying out its heaviest air strikes on Qaddafi's compounds in Tripoli this week and reportedly forcing Qaddafi to seek shelter in hospitals within the Libyan capital.
France also has announced the deployment of 12 attack helicopters as part of the NATO mission, while Britain on May 27 confirmed it was sending four attack helicopters -- a move that takes NATO's campaign closer to the ground. Military analysts say the use of attack helicopters would make it easier to target Qaddafi if the alliance decided to attack the Libyan ruler himself.
Sarkozy also confirmed that he plans to visit the Libyan opposition's stronghold of Benghazi, adding that he hopes to make the trip with Cameron. Sarkozy said no date has yet been set for the trip to eastern Libya.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy confirmed reports that the G8 summit has led to a total of about $40 billion in aid and loan pledges
for fledgling democracies in the Arab world.
Though the G8's final statement did not put a figure on financial support for so-called Arab Spring countries, Sarkozy said the $40 billion figure includes the total amount of pledges from multilateral institutions like the World Bank and individual donor countries around the world.
Sarkozy said the "Deauville Partnership" plan would make the aid and loans contingent on the implementation of democratic reforms and proof that authorities are fighting corruption.
Obama and Sarkozy said
after bilateral talks earlier in the day that both Egypt and Tunisia would get financial support to help foster democratic transition.
On Iran, Sarkozy said that new sanctions would be taken against Tehran. Sarkozy accused the Iranian government of taking advantage of the Arab Spring to press ahead with a nuclear program thought to be aimed at developing nuclear weapons -- a charge Tehran denies.
with agency reporting