MOSCOW — Russia said Tuesday it's ready to support a United Nations resolution endorsing Kofi Annan's plan for settling the Syrian crisis, signaling it is prepared to raise the pressure on its old ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the resolution shouldn't turn into an ultimatum to the Syrian government, setting the stage for tough bargaining over the wording of the document at the U.N. Security Council.
But Lavrov appeared to indicate Russia's growing impatience with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government he said made "many mistakes" that led to a worsening of the conflict.
Russia and China have twice shielded Assad's regime from U.N. sanctions over its yearlong crackdown on protesters, in which more than 8,000 people have died. But the Kremlin has also offered strong support to Annan, a former United Nations secretary-general who is the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy.
Annan met twice with Assad earlier this month and made proposals to end the bloodshed, which haven't yet been made public.
Lavrov said that Annan's proposals should now be unveiled, adding that Moscow stands ready to back a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting them.
"The Security Council should support them, not as an ultimatum but as a basis for the continuing efforts by Kofi Annan aimed at reaching accord among all Syrians, the government and all opposition groups on all key issues, such as humanitarian corridors, halting hostilities by all parties, the beginning of a political dialogue and offering access to the media," Lavrov said at a news conference following talks in Moscow with his Lebanese counterpart.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree Tuesday on a text for a nonbinding statement in support of Annan's mission. The ambassadors postponed the issue until Wednesday pending instructions from their governments. A nonbinding council statement must be adopted by consensus, but it lacks any enforcement mechanism.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the Syria crisis is the most pressing issue facing the world.
"We have no time to waste, no time to lose. Just one minute, one hour delay will mean more and more people dead," Ban told reporters in the Indonesian city of Bogor, his first stop on an Asian tour.
In a radio interview aired Tuesday night, Lavrov stepped up his criticism of Assad's government.
"We think the Syrian leadership reacted wrongly to the first peaceful protests and makes very many mistakes, despite the numerous promises made in response to our appeals. And the positive steps are taken too late," Lavrov said on Kommersant FM radio. "Unfortunately, this is why the conflict has become so acute."
Lavrov said over the weekend that Annan's plan doesn't contain a demand for Assad to step down. On Tuesday, he reaffirmed Russia's call for a simultaneous cease-fire by the government and the opposition forces. Syria insists that the opposition cease-fire first; the United States demands that Assad's military halts its offense first, followed by the opposition.
Lavrov also said that a Russian navy oil tanker anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus is on a mission to assist Russian navy ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. He scoffed at media reports alleging a Russian military buildup in Syria, saying that the servicemen aboard the tanker are needed to protect it from pirates in the waters off Africa's coast.
The foreign minister's statement followed Moscow's strong call on the Syrian government to open humanitarian corridors to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to treat the victims of the fighting. Moscow also urged Damascus to grant the Red Cross access to jailed protesters.
While Russia had previously backed the ICRC's call for a cease-fire, Monday's statement from the Foreign Ministry that followed Lavrov's talks with the ICRC chief was worded stronger than previous ones.
Speaking before Russian parliament last week, Lavrov criticized Assad for being too slow to implement long-needed reforms and warned that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control.
He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the "unproportionate" use of force by government troops and said Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.
"We support the need to start a political process, and to do that it's necessary to have a cease-fire first," Lavrov said. "Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way."
In Brussels, a senior European Union official said Tuesday that all member states in the bloc may close their embassies in Syria following clashes in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus.
The official, who could not be identified in line with EU rules, said that EU foreign ministers will discuss the situation in Syria, and possible evacuation of diplomats, when they meet on Thursday and Friday.
So far, six EU states have closed their missions in Damascus, and some others who have maintained a presence have reduced staff.
Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report from Brussels, and Peter James Spielmann contributed from the United Nations.