Brussels: President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia isn`t a defender of Syrian President Bashar Assad and wants to see a democratically elected government, but held his ground on his stance that peace in Syria can only be achieved through talks.
Putin`s statement at the end of talks with EU leaders in Brussels appears to be part of Russia`s efforts to distance itself from its old ally, who has been weakened by opposition victories on the battleground and increasing international isolation.
But Putin made no indication that Moscow could change its stance and stop blocking international sanctions against the Syrian regime.
"We aren`t a defender of the current Syrian leadership," Putin said.
He said that a lasting peace in Syria can only be reached through a peace agreement that would ensure the protection of various religious and ethnic groups in Syria.
Russia would like to see a "democratic regime in Syria based on the expression of people`s will," he said.
Russia has backed its last Middle East ally since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, using its veto power along with China at the UN Security Council to block three resolutions containing sanctions against Damascus.
But, Putin`s primary concern while meeting with European leaders in Brussels was energy market regulations, which Moscow has described as discriminatory against Russia`s state-controlled Gazprom gas company.
European officials have warned Gazprom that it would have to allow third-party gas producers to use the prospective South Stream pipeline to comply with its new regulations.
Russia considers the pipeline key to its strategy of strengthening its supply to Europe, its most important export market.