MOSCOW – Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Wednesday that the main obstacle to peace in Syria is the opposition's "obsession with the idea of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime." He also said the Kremlin's Emergency Ministry flights that removed 77 Russians from the conflict zone early Wednesday had not signaled the start of an evacuation.
In an annual news conference, Mr. Lavrov made clear that Russia was unlikely to alter the position it had staked out in Syria, opposing any international measures to force Mr. Assad from power after nearly two years of violence. More than 60,000 people have died in the Syria conflict, according to the United Nations.
Mr. Lavrov offered some insight into Russian adjustments as Mr. Assad's military position weakens and rebels dig into the suburbs ringing Damascus, noting that Russia's Foreign Ministry "proceeds from the notion that there should be no nonessential employees" in the Russian Embassy in the capital, and that the families of Russian diplomats were sent home "long ago, because it is not very calm to work there, and that's correct."
Last week, Russia announced that it was closing its consulate in the contested northern city of Aleppo, in the wake of a double bombing that killed 82 people.
Mr. Lavrov said that diplomats are in regular contact with Russian citizens in Syria, and around 1,000 people had expressed interest in transportation out, but fewer than 100 had been "ready to use that opportunity" when Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations offered free flights to Moscow this week.
He said the two Emergency Ministry aircraft had been delivering humanitarian aid to Beirut, and so offered Russian citizens the option of free passage to Moscow.
Mr. Lavrov spoke as new signals of further disintegration in Syria were reverberating through the region. Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, was quoted by Reuters as saying in an interview that 20,000 Syrians had fled to his country just in the last seven days -- the fastest pace since the anti-Assad uprising began. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told the World Economic Forum annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland that the Syrian military's aerial bombardments of civilian areas should be declared a war crime. "Syrians are dying not only in bombardments but the silence of the international community is killing them as well," said Mr. Davutoglu, appearing on a panel alongside top representatives of United Nations relief agencies.
Besides Syria, Mr. Lavrov also addressed the sharp downturn in Moscow's relationship with the United States after Vladimir V. Putin returned to the presidency last year. Seemingly eager to to aside the rancorous tone, Mr. Lavrov said Russia was "interested in constructive dialogue and the development of stable mutually beneficial cooperation." He also said that the Kremlin is hoping to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and President Obama but had not yet received a response to an invitation extended after the American presidential elections.
Mr. Lavrov was one of a number of high-ranking officials to initially publicly express disagreement with the idea of banning adoption by Americans, a controversial step that Mr. Putin ultimately supported, but which undermined the Foreign Ministry's painstaking negotiation of a recent bilateral agreement with the State Department. But at the news conference on Wednesday Mr. Lavrov offered a cool defense of the ban.
He said American officials had refused Russia's repeated appeals for access to a Russian-born boy who had been placed with anew foster in Florida after his adoptive parents were prosecuted for child abuse. He also said Russia "did not see the desire" on the part of American officials to provide Russian officials with access to the Ranch for Kids, a nonprofit organization in northeastern Montana that has hosted hundreds of Russian adoptees, and became the focus of Russian scrutiny in 2010, after a Tennessee woman put a 7-year-old adoptee on a flight back to Moscow.
"The cases we know about are only the tip of the iceberg," he said. He added that Russia has no complaints about the welfare of children adopted by Italians and is working to facilitate more adoptions by French families.
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.