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Inside Syria
Syria's friends in high places
As Russia and China veto a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, we ask if there is more to Moscow's misgivings.
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2012 06:12

The UN Security Council met on Saturday to vote on a draft resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on the uprising there.

"The UN Security Council is not a world government to decide who should be in what office. We should keep in mind that the Middle East is a quite unstable region and what we need is rule of law and the enforcement of law rather than over-response to the demands of the street."

- Ivan Safranchuck, a Russian political analyst

But Russia, Syria's last remaining ally in the region, warned that the resolution does not demand enough of the groups opposing the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow has also made it clear that any transfer of power must be a decision made from within and nothing less.

This comes as Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Mikhail Fradkov, the chief of Russia's foreign intelligence service, prepare to travel to Syria on Tuesday to meet al-Assad.

These diplomatic developments are set against a backdrop of growing violence. Activists reported on Saturday that the Syrian army had killed 200 people since Friday. This number was later revised to 179. 

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited witnesses as saying that 138 of the dead had been killed in the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood of Homs.

"I think the UN resolution doesn't matter. What does matter is what Mr Lavrov is going to say to Mr Assad on Tuesday. Is he going to say 'it's time to go, we can get you out now but if you stay any longer we may not be able to help you'? Or is he merely going to try to find out who the opposition are, because all the countries in this region are trying to find out ... who would take over if the Assad regime went?"

- Robert Fisk, a foreign correspondent for The Independent

The opposition Syrian National Council has decried Saturday's violence as a "horrific massacre", while the Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, said more than 500 additional people were injured after the army used tanks, mortars and machine guns in the assault on the opposition stronghold.

"The Syrian National Council calls on everyone around the world to speak up and do something to stop the bloodshed of innocent Syrians," the opposition group said in a statement.

So, just what are Moscow's misgivings? Is there something more to Moscow's position? Did the UN resolution that allowed foreign intervention in Libya leave Russia feeling so sidelined and undermined that it is determined not to allow the same thing to happen again? And, is civil war in Syria now unavoidable?

Joining Inside Syria to discuss this are: Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria; Robert Fisk, the author of numerous books on the Middle East and a veteran correspondent for The Independent; and Ivan Safranchuck, a Russian political analyst and deputy director of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies.

"If there is no resolution, I think there will be a drop in the level of hope that there can be a political solution and it will lead to more militancy on the part of the population, more taking up of arms."

Richard Murphy, the US ambassador to Syria in 1974 

UPDATE - AFTER THE VOTE:

On Saturday, Russia and China vetoed the UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government's deadly crackdown, insisting that the text needed more work.

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said the veto was necessary because the resolution "sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties".

Li Baodong, the Chinese representative to the UN, said further consultation was needed before the council denounced the Syrian government: "To push through a vote when parties are still seriously divided over the issue will not help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council, or help resolve the issue."

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, described the veto as: "A great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East and to all supporters of democracy and human rights."

Barack Obama, the US president, demanded that al-Assad step down, saying in a statement: "Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against humanity. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately."

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said the veto would encourage further crackdowns by the Syrian regime. And the New York-based Human Rights Watch called it "not only a slap in the face of the Arab League, they are also a betrayal of the Syrian people".

Syria and the Security Council facts:

  • On Saturday, 13 countries voted for the resolution proposed by European and Arab nations. Russia and China vetoed it.
  • The demand for the Syrian president to resign had been dropped from the draft
  • Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said the Western nations behind the resolution were "calling for regime change, pushing the opposition towards power"
  • Earlier on Saturday, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that "measures must be taken to influence not only the government ... but also the armed groups, because unless you do it both ways, you are taking sides in a civil war"
  • Moscow and Damascus have been strategic partners for decades
  • Moscow is a major arms supplier to Damascus
  • Activists said more than 200 people had been killed in the city of Homs on Friday. That number has since been revised to 179
  • There are conflicting reports of how the attack on Homs started, but it is thought to be the deadliest since the uprising began 11 months ago
  • The reports of violence in Homs prompted demonstrators to storm Syrian embassies in Europe and the Middle East
Source:
Al Jazeera
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