By Steve Gutterman and Alexei Anishchuk
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Statements from Western and Arab countries that President Bashar al-Assad's rule is illegitimate are counterproductive to establishing peace in Syria, Russia's envoy to the Middle East said on Friday.
"The Syrian people should determine who will lead their country and so the opinion of some of our foreign partners will hardly foster a solution," Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister, told a news conference.
Declarations from countries about Assad's illegitimacy and calls for him to step down "are counterproductive because they send the opposition a false signal that there is no sense in entering dialogue," he said.
The United States and other Western and Arab countries have said that Assad's use of violence against his own people shows he is no longer fit to rule. They have called on him to quit and make way for a political transition.
Russia, is the biggest seller of arms to Syria and which has a naval facility there, has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at isolating Assad, one of which backed an Arab League call for him to step aside.
Moscow has urged dialogue between the government and opposition and said Assad's exit must not be a precondition.
Bogdanov reiterated calls for an immediate end to violence by government forces and their opponents, a ceasefire monitoring mechanism and the swift start of a dialogue between both sides with "no preconditions or predetermined outcomes".
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said later on Friday that Russia's opposition to intervention and external pressure for Assad's resignation remained firm.
"Russia has not been and will not be among those who interfere in the affairs of others and try to change ruling regimes in accordance with their own wishes or teach other peoples how to build their future," he said.
Bogdanov also criticized nations that have closed embassies or withdrawn diplomats from Syria, saying "maintaining links and contacts with (Syrian authorities) is an absolutely necessary condition" for seeking a solution.
Speaking separately, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced hope that U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan's efforts to end the violence "will not fail" and said Western nations must pressure Assad's opponents to cooperate.
Russia is "sending impulses to Damascus in order to provide the full cooperation of the Syrian leadership with Kofi Annan's mission," Lavrov said, hours before the envoy was to brief the U.N. Security Council about his proposals to end the violence.
"Other members of the U.N. Security Council also must do their work and demand from the opposition that it not provoke an escalation of the situation but ... fully cooperate with Kofi Annan and react constructively to the proposals he is formulating," Lavrov said.
He suggested that if Annan's mission failed, it would be the fault of the West and some of Syria's neighbors, accusing them of undermining previous progress towards a solution.
"One gets the impression every time that as soon as we are able to achieve some positive changes in Damascus's position, there is a reverse reaction and the corresponding steps forward are erased," Lavrov said.
"I very much hope that this will not be the case with the regional and Western powers when it comes to the mission delegated to Kofi Annan by the secretary generals of the United Nations and the Arab League."
(Writing by Thomas Grove and Steve Gutterman; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)