Russia defies West on Iran, Syria crises
Moscow - Russia on Wednesday insisted it would not back sanctions on Syria and accused the West of suffocating the Iranian economy as it warned against military intervention targeting either regime.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that Russia was prepared to wield its veto on the UN Security Council, as Moscow sharpens its foreign policy line ahead of Vladimir Putin's planned return to the Kremlin this year.
"For us, the red line is fairly clearly drawn. We will not support any sanctions" against Syria, Lavrov said, complaining that the West had already introduced measures against Damascus without consulting Russia or China.
His comments came as diplomats in Brussels said European Union foreign ministers are set to slap fresh sanctions on Syria next week, adding 22 individuals and eight companies to an existing blacklist.
Russia has irked the West with its position on Syria as forces loyal to Bashar Assad's regime press with a crackdown on protesters, in violence that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 5 000 people.
Moscow has insisted the Syrian opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime, a position it has tried to assert in a UN Security Council resolution that has received a cool Western reception.
Western criticism of Russia failed to take account of the actions of "the armed extremist opposition against administrative buildings, hospitals, schools, and the acts of terror that are being carried out," he said.
"Why do we need to stay silent about this? The approach of our Western partners is one-sided," Lavrov said.
Lavrov indicated that Russia would use its UN Security Council veto to block any proposals for military intervention in Syria, following a suggestion by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to send in Arab troops.
"We will hardly be able to prevent [force] if someone really wants to do something like that. But let that be on their own initiative and rest on their conscience.
"They will not receive any mandate from the UN Security Council," he said.
He issued a similarly stern warning over the risks of a military attack on Iran over its nuclear drive - an option never ruled out by the West and Israel - which he said would be a catastrophe with the "severest consequences" for the Middle East.
"As for the chances of this catastrophe happening, you would have to ask those constantly mentioning it as an option that remains on the table," said Lavrov.
Lavrov noted that Russia had in the past backed UN sanctions against the Iranian nuclear and missile industries but said Moscow rejected sanctions targeting Iran's wider economy, a tactic now being adopted by the West.
He indicated that Russia suspected that a programme of Western economic sanctions were aimed at sparking discontent inside the country, which has now been run by an anti-US Islamic regime for over three decades.
"It is seriously aimed at suffocating the Iranian economy and the well-being of its people, probably in the hope of inciting discontent."
Russia arms to Damascus
Moscow's initial relations with the Islamic republic in the 1980s were tense but after the collapse of the collapse of the Soviet Union, ties warmed rapidly, based on common energy interests and a shared distrust of the West.
Meanwhile, Russia still maintains close ties with the secular regime in Damascus that were cultivated under Bashar al-Assad's father and strongman predecessor Hafez al-Assad.
Lavrov also defended Russia's right to trade with Syria, amid growing controversy over a mysterious shipment that reportedly delivered a Russian supply of arms to Damascus this month.
He described Russia's current foreign policy as being based on "pragmatism, openness and predictability" and indicated that its stance would not change after the March 4 presidential polls which Putin is expected to win.
"I think our partners abroad can count on the continuity of our foreign policy in the context of the upcoming presidential elections," Lavrov said.