05/30/2012 09:20 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2012

Syria Crisis: Expelling Syrian Diplomats Is Counterproductive, Russia Says

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW, May 30 (Reuters) - Russia criticised Western nations on Wednesday for expelling Syrian envoys, calling the move "counterproductive", and warned them not to seek new U.N. Security Council action on the crisis in the Middle Eastern state for the time being.

With global anger rising over a massacre Western nations blame on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia also signalled it would block any effort to authorise military intervention, the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia, which has blamed both the government and its foes for the killings of more than 108 civilians in the town of Houla, said kicking out Syrian envoys closes channels of use in influencing the government to abide by a U.N. peace plan.

"The expulsion of Syrian ambassadors from the capitals of several leading Western states seems like a counterproductive step to us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

The United States, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands and Bulgaria gave Syria's envoys hours or days to leave in a coordinated move that increased Assad's diplomatic isolation.

"They do not want to listen to Damascus, and that, from our point of view, does not improve matters in the current situation," Lukashevich said, adding that Russia maintains "intensive contacts" with the government and opposition.

Russia has longtime strategic links with Syria under the Assad family's rule, acting as a major arms supplier to Damascus and maintaining a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Moscow has provided Assad crucial support by vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning his government over bloodshed in which the United Nations says its forces have killed more than 9,000 people. Moscow has also strongly backed U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

Russia's warnings came after French President Francois Hollande said military intervention was not ruled out provided it was backed by the Security Council, and Germany said it would push for "new engagement" by the council on Syria.

In the latest reported episode of bloodletting in Syria, U.N. observers said on Wednesday 13 bodies had been discovered bound and shot in the east of the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will depart on Friday for visits to Germany and France, where he will face pressure to change Moscow's stance on Syria as part of his first foreign trip since his return to the Kremlin on May 7.

Russia supported a non-binding Security Council statement on Sunday that strongly condemned the killings in Houla, criticized the Assad government for using heavy weapons against population centres and called on Damascus and its foes to end the violence.

That statement was "a strong enough signal to the Syrian sides and a sufficient reaction by the council to the latest developments," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, according to Interfax.

"We believe consideration in the Security Council of any new measures to influence the situation now would be premature," said Gatilov, whose country has twice vetoed Western-backed council resolutions condemning Assad over 15 months of bloodshed.

Commenting on Hollande's remark, Gatilov said Russia "categorically opposes any external intervention in the Syrian conflict, as it would only aggravate the situation with unpredictable consequences for Syria and the entire region." (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Mark Heinrich)