Moscow:  Russia dampened hopes yesterday that elections, which returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency, would soften Moscow's stance on Syria, as a top diplomat urged the West to press the Syrian opposition to stop fighting Bashar Al Assad's regime.

Moscow last month blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning Damascus' bloody crackdown on the opposition and accused Western powers of fuelling the conflict by backing the rebels.

"We are deeply convinced that we are right," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. "That is why we call on our partners not to adopt a hard-line stance, but to seek compromise, stimulate negotiations and a political process."

Calls for ceasefire

Another official at the Foreign Ministry added that calls for a ceasefire should be directed not only at Al Assad's forces, but also the opposition. The official declined to give his name in line with ministry policy.

The comments coming days after Putin's election triumph were a blow to speculation that Russia might change its position once the presidential campaign was over.

Germany's foreign minister said on Monday he hoped Russia would recognise that it is on "the wrong side of history".