Russia’s foreign minister called on the West not to interfere in efforts to wipe out what he called “terrorists” in Syria’s Idlib Province.
Sergei Lavrov’s comments to reporters in Moscow on August 29 came amid reports that Syrian government forces are gearing up for a massive offensive in Idlib, the last main stronghold for rebels.
Moscow has deployed more warships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in what Russian media called the largest naval buildup since Russia entered the Syrian civil war in 2015.
Idlib is a "festering abscess" that needed to be “liquidated,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
"I hope our Western partners will not give in to [rebel] provocations and will not obstruct an antiterror operation," he said. Russia often refers to any armed opponents of the Syrian government as "terrorists."
The United States has backed opposition forces fighting against Assad’s government in the seven-year civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions. Turkey has also backed rebels, but not always the same ones as Washington has backed.
Lavrov also said Moscow was in contact with Turkey and the United States on the situation in Idlib. He said there was a "full political understanding" between Moscow and Ankara, without providing details.
The United States, Britain, and France this week repeated warnings to Syria not to use chemical weapons in an assault on Idlib, saying it would result in Western retaliation.
Moscow, meanwhile, has accused Syrian rebels of planning to stage a chemical attack in Idlib to "provoke" Western strikes.
In Brussels, NATO confirmed the Russian naval buildup and called on Moscow to exercise restraint. Alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu also said that several of the Russian ships are equipped with cruise missiles.
"We will not speculate on the intention of the Russian fleet, but it is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and refrain from worsening an already disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria," Lungescu said.