Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov

Russia has called on Syrian president Bashar al- Assad to pull his troops from the country's streets.

Despite criticising the Syrian crackdown Russia has remained close to Damascus and along with China vetoed United Nations sanctions against the regime.

But Russia welcomed UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan to stop the bloodshed and called on Assad to cooperate and withdraw troops.

"The Syrian government must take the first step and start the troop withdrawal in line with Kofi Annan's plan," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said at a briefing in Yerevan. Lavrov said that the country's opposition should pull back too.

"Unless the beginning of such a withdrawal isn't accompanied by a similar action by all those fighting the government of Syria, I don't think we will achieve any result," he said.

Syria had warned it will not withdraw its troops from towns and cities until opposition fighters put down their arms.

More attacks and casualties have been reported with Assad's crackdown showing no signs of slowing down.

Lavrov, however, stopped short of openly standing against Assad as he warned against issuing an ultimatum.

"Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help," he said. "We all want a quick end to bloodshed, but that demand should be addressed to all warring parties in Syria."

Lavrov also criticised the Friends of Syria conferenceof 83 countries' delegates in Istanbul for failing to invite Syrian government representatives.

"Such an approach is dangerous and contradicts Kofi Annan's efforts," he said. "We are trying to be friends of all the Syrians, and not just some part of the Syrian people."