Russia: Why the fury over UN veto on Syria?
Responding to global criticism of Russia's UN veto, Russia's foreign minister said the vote was 'hasty.' He will travel to Damascus Tuesday to meet President Assad.
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"The USA and the West insisted that the resolution had to be passed, allowing outside interference, in order to stop the massacre," of Syrian civilians, says Pyotr Romanov, a political analyst with the official RIA-Novosti news agency in Moscow. "But Russia doesn't believe any resolution will stop the West from interfering. The situation will probably resolve itself when Assad is driven out. But has anyone given any thought to what happens next? Are you really trying to tell us that good moral forces will come to power? People with no blood on their hands, who will bring anything decent, much less democracy? Please."Skip to next paragraph
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Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's international affairs committee, says that Western leaders' refusal to include a clause that would rule out any invocation of Article 42 of the UN Charter – which would authorize the use of force – proves that the West's intentions toward Syria are hostile.
"We were not against the resolution, but we wanted such a clause inserted to ensure that no military interference in Syria was intended, but our demand was not met," says Mr. Klimov. "We considered this to be a matter of principle, and we still do. . . Russia feels a responsibility toward Syria, including military and technical cooperation, and our agreements stipulate mutual assistance in difficult situations. We don't have many such agreements with foreign states."
Syria has been a key Middle Eastern client state of Moscow since 1971. Russia maintains its only foreign naval base at the Syrian port of Tartous and currently has about $5-billion in arms sales to Damascus in the pipeline.
"We think Russia's position is right in this case," says Klimov. "We don't intend to support any particular regime, but we do back the sovereign right of the country to decide things for itself. We're not much impressed by examples the US has given us in the past; it's often been willing to defend unpleasant regimes that were strategic partners, often for a long time, and ultimately in vain."
Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist with the pro-business Moscow daily Kommersant, says Lavrov's mission to Damascus on Tuesday is probably aimed at nudging Assad in the direction of reform and dialogue with the opposition. Any movement like that would enable Moscow to claim that its diplomacy and "soft power" efforts are more effective than their blanket hostility and threats of military intervention, he says.
"Russia is totally on the defensive right now, and each day the pressure mounts on it to do something," Mr. Strokan says. "So, some kind of face-saving measures are called for. The problem is that Assad has probably interpreted Russia's Security Council veto as a mark of support, and it's unlikely that Lavrov will be able to move him in any dramatic way. Still, any sign of progress will make it possible for Moscow to claim it's making a positive difference using its own methods."
Strokan adds that the current presidential election, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is campaigning for votes in Russia's vast conservative heartland, means that any overt diplomatic cooperation with the West is off the table, for the moment at least.
"Putin wants to show that he won't permit any repeat of what happened in Libya, that he is tough and able to stand up to the machinations of the US," he says. "That's a popular stand in Russia these days. So, on the eve of elections, don't look for any compromises from Moscow."