Sunday, February 5, 2012

Scandalous Russian behavior at UN

Despite the killing of more than 400 people by Syrian army on Saturday, Russia vetoed the UN resolution the same day, with China following suit. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said the resolution made too few demands of anti-government armed groups, and that Moscow remains concerned that it could prejudge the outcome of a national dialogue among political forces in Syria.

Like Father, like Son.
Before the latest round of intense negotiations at the UN, Vladimir Chizhov, Russian ambassador to the EU, said it was still "missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside". In an effort to placate Russia, UN had dropped specific references in the resolution to Mr. Assad’s ceding power and calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions, and added language barring outside military intervention. However, a source close to the negotiations said that the Russians new demand was for a clause to cover all future resolutions as well. "One UN resolution cannot bind future resolutions," the source said.

Underscoring the frivolous nature of Russia position is that Syrian opposition (unlike Libyans, who opposed Gaddafi) have recently refused Western military intervention in Syria in a signed an agreement between the Syrian National Council (SNC) and National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC).

“It’s quite clear — this [Russian veto] is a license to do more of the same and worse,” said Peter Harling, an expert on Syria at the International Crisis Group. “The regime will take it for granted that it can escalate further. We’re entering a new phase that will be far more violent still than what we’ve seen now.” The veto is almost sure to embolden the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which brazenly carried out the assault on Homs on the very day that the Security Council had planned to vote. It came, too, around the anniversary of its crackdown in 1982 on another Syrian city, Hama, by Mr. Assad’s father, in which at least 10,000 people were killed in one of the bloodiest episodes in modern Arab history.

“What more do we need to know to act decisively in the Security Council?” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked at a news conference in Munich. “To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria.”

Clinton squared off over Syria with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, to whom she delivered the infamous "Reset" button almost three years ago. Responding to Lavrov, who asked, “What’s the endgame?” Clinton replied: “The endgame in the absence of us acting together as the international community, I fear, is civil war.”

Moscow has acknowledged that the situation on the ground in Syria amounts to a civil war, but refused to act, while providing vain hope that it didn't view the resolution as “hopeless,” but in need of adjustment to avoid “taking sides in a civil war.” In fact, Russia is taking sides in a civil war - the side of murderous Assad regime. As I pointed out recently Russia has continued to supply Assad with weapons for repression, and to sign new deals. It has provided a political firewall for Assad in UN. What else could Russia do to help prop up Assad, short of sending in its own military?!

Russia earned uncommonly harsh rebuke for its behavior from the Western and nations, and Morocco, the sole (temporary) Arab nation on the UN Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said America is "disgusted" by the vote. "For months this council has been held hostage by a couple of members," Rice said. Hillary Clinton said in Munich: "Almost 30 years to the day after the infamous Hama massacre, the international community must send Assad a clear message: By repeating the horrors of Syria’s past, you have lost your place in Syria’s future. The French Ambassador Gerard Araud said Russia and China had "made themselves complicit in a policy of repression carried out by the Assad regime."

President Obama is finally waking up to reality, as well: “the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs,” saying in a statement that Assad “has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.” He accused Syria of having “murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children.” Better late, than never.

Lavrov defended Russia's position, saying: "The problem is, the peaceful protesters have our full support, but they are being used by the armed groups, who create trouble. And this is reaching quite dangerous proportions." Lavrov said that Russia stands by the Syrian people but not the "armed groups" in Syria that he alleged were contributing to the violence. He said Russia would not agree to any resolution that amounts to outside interference or presupposes the political outcome in Syria other than supporting a dialogue between the two sides. So, Russia supports peaceful demonstrations ... being dispersed with live ammunition, tanks and mortars it continues to sell to Syria.

Russia views its brinkmanship as consistent with its responsibility as a permanent member of the UNSC: "We are not friends or allies of Assad," Lavrov protested the suggestion that Russia going to end up on the wrong side of history by supporting Assad, "We try to stick to our responsibilities as permanent members of the security council and the security council doesn't by definition engage in the internal affairs of states, it's about maintaining international peace and security." As I wrote recently Syria, which is ruled by minority Alawites (10%), has recently invited Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah to help out with repression of Syrian Sunni majority (74%). Allowing Assad to continue his repression is the most likely way to spark a wider Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Mr. Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow still had two objections: that it did not place sufficient blame for the violence on the opposition, and that it unrealistically demanded that the government withdraw its military forces back to their barracks (which Assad agreed to do in November, pursuant to the Arab League's demands). In a television interview quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency, he said that ignoring Russia’s objections would result in “another scandal.”

Allies shake hands over bodies of the dead in Homs
“The scandal is not to act,” Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the United Nations, said. “The scandal would be failure to act.” The resolution’s Western and Arab sponsors said they had compromised enough, and pushed the measure to a vote, virtually daring Russia to exercise its veto and risk mounting international opprobrium for preventing action to stanch the escalating death toll in Syria. Russia did not disappoint in showcasing its scandalous behavior. "An angry response by American Ambassador Susan Rice reflected the frustration of the U.S. that even a diluted Resolution - which had removed all sanctions and an arms embargo - could not pass," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk. Russian intransigence seems obtuse. Why is Russia doing this?

As I suggested recently, there may be more to Russian intransigence than mere ideological support of a 'brother' dictator, and profit from sales of arms. Russia  is facing several political pressure from the West. It is likely Russia may be concerned about a possible embarrassment over it's illegal sales of WMD to Saddam in the 1990's and the transfer of remaining materials by Spetsnaz to Syria.

It may be difficult to explain Russia's behavior, but it's easy to predict it - just imagine the actions of a patron saint of dictators, with no conscience and no shame.

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