Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western countries of trying to "blackmail" Russia to secure a new UN Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions against Syria.
Speaking at the start of talks with international envoy Kofi Annan, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Western countries have threatened to discontinue a 300-strong UN monitoring mission in Syria if Russia does not agree to sanctions.
"To our great regret, we are seeing elements of blackmail," Lavrov said. "We are being told, 'If you do not agree to the passing of [a UN Security Council resolution envisioning sanctions against the Syrian regime] under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, then we shall refuse to extend the mandate of the observer mission. We consider it an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous approach, since it is unacceptable to use observers as a bargaining chip."
Lavrov also said it is "unrealistic" for the West to expect Russia to ask its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to step down.
The UN monitoring mission's current mandate from the UN Security Council expires July 20. But the monitors already have been pulled back from many parts of the country because of fighting.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Syria is now in a state of all-out civil war and that all sides must respect international humanitarian law or risk facing prosecution for war crimes.
Classification of fighting in Syria as a "noninternational armed conflict" by the Red Cross brings into force the Geneva Conventions, which define how civilians should be protected during a conflict.
Red Cross spokesman Alexis Heeb said "international humanitarian law applies" now to cases in Syria where the rights of civilians are violated, exposing perpetrators to the possibility of being indicted for war crimes.
Previously, the Red Cross had regarded only the areas around the troubled towns of Idlib, Homs, and Hama as civil-war zones.
Meanwhile, reports described fighting in Damascus as the heaviest yet in the Syrian capital as clashes continued in several neighborhoods between government troops and opposition fighters from the Free Syrian Army.
Correspondents have confirmed the use of mortar and small arms overnight in the southern part of Damascus, within three kilometers of the city center.
Opposition activists said government forces were using tanks and rockets against opposition fighters in several neighborhoods on the city's south side.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and the BBC