Russia has rejected calls for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down as a precondition to resolving the crisis in Syria and urged all countries to play an “honest game” in the region.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague that outside players should stop “inciting” Syrian opposition to sabotage the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“There are people who are inciting [Syrian opposition groups] to torpedo the Annan plan and get a pretext for foreign interference,” Mr. Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Mr. Hague after their talks in Moscow on Monday. “This is dishonest play.”

“If we honestly want to help Kofi Annan implement his plan, we must apply pressure on all parties involved in armed confrontation in Syria,” the Russian Foreign Minister said. “If the change of regime is put forward as a precondition, then we won't achieve anything.”

Even though Mr. Lavrov addressed his criticism to countries that sit “closer to Syria than Russia or United Kingdom”, there was little doubt he targeted Britain and other Western nations.

In the run-up to Mr. Hague's visit to Moscow Russian Ambassador to U.K. Alexander Yakovenko said Russia was concerned that “London and some other Western capitals” are making public statements to encourage the Syria opposition to “continue the violence instead of taking part in political dialogue”.

Responding to Mr. Hague's call on Russia to exert “additional pressure” on Mr. Assad's regime, Mr. Lavrov said Russia was doing its bid.

“We do exert pressure on the Syrian government on a daily basis,” Mr. Lavrov said. He recalled that Moscow had persuaded Damascus to accept an Arab League plan last autumn to deploy Arab monitors in Syria and to agree to the Kofi Annan plan earlier this year.

“But we want our efforts to be matched with just as intense efforts by other players” in putting pressure on the Syrian opposition, the Russian Foreign Minister said.

Mr. Lavrov called for a thorough probe into the killing of more than 100 people in the Syrian town of Houla on May 25, which the West blamed on government forces. However, Mr. Lavrov drew parallels with the Serb “massacre” of 45 Albanians in the Kosovo village of Racak in early 1990, which was used as justification for the NATO bombings of former Yugoslavia, but was not backed up by international forensic experts, whose report was never released.

The British Foreign Secretary's visit to Moscow should be seen in the light of reports that U.S. President Barack Obama plans to seek Russia's help for a Yemen-scenario regime change in Syria when he meets with Russia's new President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a Group of Twenty summit in Mexico next month.

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