Russia balks again on military action in Syria

"We have always said that we are categorically against any outside interference in the Syrian conflict because this will only exacerbate the situation for both Syria and the region as a whole," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters on Wednesday. 

Russian diplomats also chastised the United States and other Western nations for ousting Syrian ambassadors from their countries in the wake of the Houla massacre last Friday. 

Pro-Assad forces, backed by government troops, reportedly slaughtered over 100 Syrian civilians in the village, located north of the anti-government stronghold of Homs. 

Chronicled by U.N. observers on the ground, the attack was the largest single mass-killing of Syrian civilians since the rebellion began nearly a year ago. 

The decision to expel the Syrian officials was "counterproductive" to ongoing efforts to bring peace to the region, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The move only resulted in "vital [diplomatic] channels ... being closed," it added.

Russian officials has joined the international chorus condemning the Houla attacks and criticizing the Assad regime for going too far in its violent suppression of opposition forces. 

Some in the international community had interpreted such statements as a sign that Russia was beginning to break away from its longstanding alliance with Syria and the Assad regime. 

In April, the Russian envoy to the U.N. Security Council agreed to a Syrian peace plan drafted by U.S.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan after weeks of intense negotiation. 

That move led Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to declare that Russia was beginning to come around on its staunch support of Assad. 

"At this point, Russia has been cooperative" in trying to get behind the international push to end the violence in Syria, Panetta told Congress in April. 

But Moscow's recent comments indicate that Russia is not quite ready to back regime change in the country that has become its strongest ally in the Middle East. 

In March, Moscow reportedly sent warships and special-forces units trained in counterinsurgency operations to its naval base in Syria to assist the Assad regime. 

Russian defense firms continue to gain financially by supplying arms to Syrian military forces, despite efforts by Congress to put economic sanctions on those firms over their support for the regime.