Russia will offer Washington no explanation for arms deliveries to Syria and together with China will prevent the UN Security Council from approving any military intervention in the conflict-torn nation, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
|Lavrov says nation will stand firm with China on Syria, warns Western attack on Iran would be "catastrophe"|
Using his annual news conference to draw lines in the sand on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said veto-holding Security Council members Russia and China would stand firm against foreign intervention.
"We will insist - and we have an understanding with our Chinese colleagues that this is our common position - that these fundamental points be retained in any decision that may be taken by the U.N. Security Council," Lavrov said.
"If somebody intends to use force ... it will be on their conscience. They will not receive any authority from the Security Council," said Lavrov, who also emphasized that Russia and China oppose any sanctions against Syria.
Lavrov also expressed at a news conference that his country was acting in full compliance with international law and would not be guided by unilateral sanctions placed on other nations.
He also accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by militant opposition forces and supplies of weapons to the opposition from abroad, reports said.
Later, he said that the West was “dodging the main question” on why “we should keep silent about the extremist opposition's actions against administrative buildings, hospitals, and schools,” while urging the West to use its sway with the opposition forces to urge it stop refrain from violent tactics inside Syria; later he criticized arms supplies to the opposition as “unacceptable and absolutely counterproductive,” saying the practice merely fueled violence and tensions within the country.
Russia has been the most vocal supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 10-month government crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 civilians, refusing to join calls for him to step down.
Russia joined China in October to veto a Western-backed resolution against Assad's government, saying the domestic opposition shared blame for the violence and that it would have opened the door for military action like NATO's Libya operation.
Russia submitted its own draft resolution last month and proposed a new version this week, but Lavrov indicated the council was deeply divided over the issue of where blame lies for the bloodshed and the possibility of military intervention.
He said Western members of the Security Council "are categorically determined to exclude from the resolution the phrase that (says) nothing in it can be interpreted as allowing the use of force."
Russia "playing games," Western diplomats say
Western diplomats in New York, however, suggested that Russia was playing for time in negotiations on the draft resolution. Two days of negotiations on revising the Russian text failed to resolve the deadlock and bridge differences between the Western and Russian camps.
"Russia's playing games," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Negotiations aren't really going anywhere. China and others would probably agree not to block a tougher resolution, but Russia isn't compromising."
The United States, France and Britain, along with Russia and China, are permanent Security Council members with the power to block any resolution from passage.
Moscow has close ties with Syria, a leading client for arms sales, and its naval maintenance facility in the port of Tartus is a rare outpost for Russia's shrunken post-Soviet military.
A Russian-operated ship carrying what a Cypriot official said was bullets arrived in Tartus last week from St. Petersburg after being held up in Cyprus.
The United States said it had raised concerns about the ship with Russia, but Lavrov said there was no need for an explanation.
"We don't consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any (UN) Security Council resolutions," Lavrov told an annual news conference.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Tuesday that the United States "would have very grave concern about arms flows into Syria from any source" and that it was unfortunate there was no UN arms embargo on Syria.
Russia says such an embargo would cut off supplies to the government while enabling armed opponents to receive weapons illegally. Lavrov repeated on Wednesday that Russia and China oppose any sanctions on Syria.
"The red line is quite clear: we will not support any sanctions, because unilateral sanctions have been imposed without any consultation with Russia or China," he said.
Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia's total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the Russian defense think tank CAST.
An unnamed military source was quoted as saying in December that Russia had delivered anti-ship Yakhont missiles to Syria.
Resolution resistance: West rejects Russia's Syria draft
Western diplomats pushing for tough action against Damascus have criticized Russia’s new draft UN resolution for being too conciliatory. But while experts argue over drafts and texts, innocent Syrians are living in constant fear for their lives.
After weeks of criticism over the slow pace of talks, Russia has submitted a new draft UN resolution designed to bring peace to Syria, which calls on all sides to halt the violence.
However the draft has come in for harsh criticism from council members, who say it does not condemn President Assad’s crackdown on protesters strongly enough. They say it also does not make clear whether Moscow would accept tough sanctions which the West believes will solve the conflict and save innocent civilians.
The new text enlarges on an existing Russian resolution, which has been supplemented with a list of amendments proposed by the European nations and the United States.
Russia, which holds both Syrian authorities and the opposition responsible, is calling for both sides to negotiate and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Council members are to discuss Russia’s text on Tuesday.
As the new draft resolution was being distributed, Germany again raised its voice in the 15-member Security Council over the lack of UN action on the worsening crisis.
Russia's previous draft, presented to the UN on December 23, was criticized for being “insufficient.”
Britain, France, Germany and the United States said the text was not acceptable because it put opposition violence on a par with the government assault which the UN says has left more than 5,400 dead.
Ali Rizk, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs told RT that one cannot consider the Syrian case “regardless or separate from the whole bigger regional package.” Rizk believes that the U.S. and its allies view Syria as a very important “card” in their confrontation with Iran.
“The chances of any fruitful resolve, any solution would be that the U.S. finds common ground with Iran,” he said. “Once the U.S. is able to reach its solution when it comes to Iran then I think we will see the U.S. being more responsive to the Russian proposals to solve this Syrian issue.”
Political science professor Eugene Dabbous believes that in order to begin real negotiations, the West should recognize the current Syrian regime as a partner that will remain in power for the foreseeable future. At the same time, Dabbous says, Assad deal with the opposition as an equal partner.
Dabbous told RT that the Syrian leadership is "very well prepared" for the uprising in the country. “Their power structures are intact. It’s crumbling on the edges slightly, but from a pure power perspective Syria’s regime is not threatened.”
Qatar-based poll finds majority support Assad staying
A poll commissioned by a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation, found that 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by the fear of a civil war, a scenario widely feared by many observers.
The poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he should hold free elections in the near future, however. He has reportedly not pledged support for that scenario in his latest speeches according to The Guardian.
The critics presumably feared that the Arab observers would report that armed violence is no longer confined to the regime's forces, and the image of peaceful protests brutally suppressed by army and police is false. Homs and a few other Syrian cities are becoming like Beirut in the 1980s or Sarajevo in the 1990s, with battles between militias raging across sectarian and ethnic fault lines.
As for foreign military intervention, it has already started according to the report. It is not following the Libyan pattern since Russia and China are furious at the west's deception in the security council last year, however. They will not accept a new United Nations resolution that allows any use of force, the Guardian says.
As the danger of full-scale war increases, Arab League foreign ministers are preparing to meet in Cairo this weekend to discuss the future of their Syrian mission.
-Reuters, TAAN, The Guardian, RT