MOSCOW, July 9 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin called Monday for a dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
Putin's comments came at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, The New York Times reported.
"We must do as much as possible to force the conflicting sides to reach a peaceful political solution to all contentious questions," he said. "We must strive to promote such a dialogue. Of course, this work is much more complex and subtle than intervening by brute force, but only this can provide a long-term settlement and further stable development of the region and of the Syrian state."
Along with pressing Syrian President Bashar Assad to talk with his opponents, Russia also invited an anti-Assad delegation to the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, Assad met Monday with U.S.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the failed peace plan announced three months ago.
"We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so," Annan told reporters. "We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition. I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue, which the president accepts."
Russia has consistently said it would block foreign military intervention in Syria.
But the Times said his comments about Assad, along with the invitation to the anti-Assad delegation and Russia saying it's restricting shipments of new weapons to Syria, could indicate Moscow could be preparing to distance itself from Assad.
Since the uprising against Assad began nearly 17 months ago, some estimates say it has left as many as 17,000 people dead.