World | Sat Dec 1, 2012 8:07pm IST

Russia says West pushing democracy with "iron and blood"

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Western states on Saturday of trying to advance democracy abroad through "iron and blood", defending Moscow's refusal to join nations seeking the exit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Echoing comments made by Vladimir Putin, Lavrov made his sharply-worded address to a foreign and defence policy council meeting two days before the Russian president travels to Turkey where the war in Syria is expected to dominate talks.

"Russia is not opposing Western influence or putting a stick in the spokes of Western-initiated projects out of spite," Lavrov said, according to state-run news agency Itar-Tass.

"The fact is, advancing democracy through iron and blood just does not work, and this has been made clear in recent months - the past year-and-a-half," he said.

He added "in most cases it produces the opposite reaction" and leads to "the strengthening of extremists and repressive forces, decreasing the chances of real democratic change."

Moscow says Western and Gulf states are encouraging rebels seeking the overthrow of Assad while the United States and Europe accuse the Kremlin of shielding the Syrian president during 20 months of bloodshed.

Russia says Assad's exit from power cannot be imposed from abroad and has voiced concern extremists could gain the upper hand in Syria and other states following Arab Spring revolts, further destabilising the region.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, in a meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said the situation has been worsened by a "sharp increase in the activities of terrorist organisations" including al Qaeda.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Gatilov also repeated Russia's concern the conflict "is taking on a clearly expressed inter-religious element."

Russia has denied it is propping up Assad but says it will not allow a repeat of what occurred last year in Libya.

It says NATO overstepped the bounds of a U.N. Security Council mandate for intervention to protect civilians in its determination to help rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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