Russia Defends Top Mideast Ally in Opposing UN Vote on Syria
Russia, which sells weapons to Syria and maintains a naval base there, is poised to veto today a United Nations resolution threatening “targeted measures” against the regime headed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
European nations have been seeking UN action since April to stop a crackdown that has killed more than 3,500 since protests began in mid-March.
By deleting the word “sanctions” from the draft, they sought to convince Russia to at least abstain, instead of voting “no” and killing the resolution. That may not happen, and the sponsors may decide against seeking a vote.
The proposed resolution is “unacceptable” to Russia because it still contains the prospect of sanctions and amounts to interference in the internal affairs of a state, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was cited as saying by Interfax. Russia, for whom Syria is its closest Middle East ally, is one of five veto-wielding members in the 15-member council.
“Economic interests have a major role from an arms supply deal to investments in the energy sector,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight, in an e-mail. “Unless the uprising grows significantly in size, Moscow is likely to remain loyal to the current Syrian regime.”
Syria allowed Russia to build a Russian naval base on the Syrian coast that gives it a presence in the Mediterranean Sea. The port of Tartus is the only Russian base outside the former Soviet republics.
Moreover, Russia has weapons contracts with Syria worth at least $3 billion, according to the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. The orders include Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets and Pantsir short-range air-defense systems.
Their backing of the Syrian regime extends beyond economics. The Russians, along with the Chinese, have long defended the right of governments to deal with internal matters without external intervention, according to Chris Phillips, a London-based analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
That’s a key principle which also explains why they are hesitant to support a Western-backed resolution, he said.
“The Russians have limited economic interests and a naval base that is important, but I don’t think that is how the Russians are approaching this,” Ayham Kamal, Middle East analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group said in an interview. “The main issue is that they do not want more instability in the Middle East. They do not want civil war.”
After abstaining in a March vote that authorized NATO-led military action in Libya, Russia repeatedly criticized the U.S. and European nations for overstepping the mandate to protect Libyan civilians. Russia has warned against efforts to overthrow Assad as happened with Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Russia’s refusal to budge may force the Europeans to postpone a vote. China typically follows Russia’s lead and it’s still unclear which way the so-called IBSA countries -- India, Brazil and South Africa -- will sway.
“The negotiations are going to the wire,” India’s Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said. “The efforts are still on to get the council united, but it is quite likely that will not be the scenario that the Security Council finally faces.”
In the four drafts of their resolution, European nations called for the council to consider “targeted measures” 30 days after adoption of the resolution if Syria doesn’t halt the repression. It also urges “all sides to reject violence and extremism” and encouraged greater involvement of the Arab League in a political solution to the crisis.
“The proposed resolution falls into the ‘do something’ category,” said George A. Lopez, a former member of a UN panel of experts monitoring compliance with sanctions. “It gets the council’s foot in the door but, for most nations that are not Russia, this is a pretty weak proposal.”
Pressure is mounting for the UN to take some form of action beyond an August statement that condemned “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by Syrian authorities.”
More than 3,600 civilians have died since the unrest began in March, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 are still being held, according to Qurabi.
Turkey, a rising diplomatic voice in the region, shares a 522 mile (840 kilometer) with Syria and is demanding measures. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today the UN cannot “remain indifferent” to violence in Syria and must act to resolve the situation in the Middle East country.
Russia’s current stance also reflects how Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who plans to return to the Kremlin next May as president, rates Assad’s chances of clinging to power.
“The Russians are also aware of realpolitik and won’t back Assad if they’re convinced he’s going to fall,’” Phillips said in a telephone interview. “At the moment they’re very confident that he’s going stay in power.”
Source: By Flavia Krause-Jackson and Bill Varner - Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- -- With assistance from Henry Meyer in Moscow and Massoud Derhally in Beirut. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow