Syrian peace envoy Kofi Annan has arrived in Moscow as he begins a trip to the Russian and Chinese capitals to discuss the crisis in Syria.
Annan is expected to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 25 and then hold talks starting March 27 in Beijing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 24 that Annan's meetings in Moscow "will be focused on analyzing ways to achieve a peaceful settlement of the internal Syrian conflict."
The planned meeting comes after Moscow on March 22 gave its backing to Annan's efforts in Syria in a UN Security Council statement endorsing his mission. Annan's peace plan calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition, and full access for aid agencies.
A top Kremlin-linked lawmaker said on March 23 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should treat the UN statement as "an insistent recommendation."
Mikhail Margelov, the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs chief, said "Russia's future position on the conflict will depend on how successfully [the Syrian government] complies with the provisions spelled out in the Security Council statement."
Russia, along with China, had previously vetoed draft UN Security Council resolutions calling on Assad to end his crackdown on opponents. Moscow said the draft resolutions did not equally blame the opposition for the violence in country, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives since it started more than one year ago.
Violence continues in Syria. Activists say Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition strongholds and clashed with rebel fighters around the country on March 24.
At least two people are reported killed in the heaviest fighting in the northern province of Idlib, where local rebels were forced to retreat into two areas. Government forces also bombed towns near the capital Damascus following overnight clashes with rebels there.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has presented a plan to provide aid to Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.
The UN refugee agency is appealing to donors for $84 million.
Based on reporting by AP, Interfax, and AFP