Russia dismissed rumors on Thursday that it would offer political asylum to embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as a "joke."
“It is either an attempt to mislead serious people dealing with foreign policy or a lack of understanding of Russia's position,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of the rumors.
Lavrov said the issue of political asylum for Assad first came up during talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Berlin last month, adding that it was first raised by the German side.
“Our delegation took it as a joke and responded also with a joke: Why don't you, Germans, take Mr. Assad if he wants to go somewhere?” Lavrov said during a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Lavrov added, “I was very surprised when, during my recent contacts with my foreign colleagues, when we were discussing the Syrian issue, I heard that they are convinced that we will take Assad and thus solve all the Syrian people's problems."
He added that Moscow would host Abdelbasset Sida, the new leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, and prominent opposition activist Michel Kilo next week.
Russia has consistently shielded Assad's regime, which it has billions of dollars tied to in oil and military contracts, from international calls for his ouster or direct intervention.
The permanent members of the UN Security Council agreed at talks last week that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the bloodshed rocking the country, but at Russia's insistence did not call for Assad to step down.
Assad has waged a bloody 16-month crackdown on a popular uprising against his family's decades long rule, leaving at least 16,500 dead.
Nonetheless, a mounting insurgency by the rebel Free Syrian Army - comprised of some 30,000 army defectors - has turned Syria's popular uprising into a full-blown civil war and brought the fighting to Assad's stronghold, Damascus.
A senior Russian military official on Wednesday told the Interfax news agency on condition of anonymity that Kremlin officials estimated Assad's odds for staying in power were roughly 10 percent.