Speaking to journalists in Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe accused Moscow of seeking to prop up Mr. Assad as he continues to use brutal military and secret police methods to suppress his political opposition. Syria's year-old civil conflict has killed more than 9,000 people, according to UN estimates.
"I regret that Russia continues to lock itself into a vision that isolates it more and more, not just from the Arab world but also from the international community," Mr. Juppe said.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow that they'd turned down the invitation – which was only delivered on short notice – because the Paris gathering is just the latest in a series of "one-sided" sessions aimed at helping the rebels.
"This meeting is apparently aimed not at looking for the basis to launch inter-Syrian dialogue, but just opposite, at deepening the divisions between the opposition and Damascus by encouraging the international isolation of the latter," Mr. Lukashevich said.
France wants the current UN observer mission in Syria expanded beyond the 250 monitors Assad has accepted to oversee the cease-fire, and President Nicholas Sarkozy said today that he supports the creation of Western-backed "humanitarian corridors" within Syria to create safe channels for getting aid into beleaguered opposition strongholds – a plan Russia views as a first step toward outright Western military intervention in the country.
Russia, which vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, came together with other leading powers to support the Annan plan, which kicked in a week ago with a cease-fire that was supposed to be followed by negotiations between Assad and the rebels, followed by elections.