Russia stands firm against UN on Syria

2012-02-01 15:44

Damascus - Western powers and the Arab League have demanded immediate UN action to stop Syria's "killing machine" but Russia refused to give its support, as fighting on the ground intensified.

The wrangling at the United Nations on Tuesday came as fierce clashes raged across Syria's powderkeg regions between President Bashar Assad's security forces and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

Activists said on Wednesday the unrest had killed nearly 200 people in the past three days, including 28 civilians on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts as well as Qatar's prime minister, led the charge for a tough UN resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power.

"We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end," Clinton told the UN Security Council.

"The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?"

All-out armed conflict

Analysts warn that the conflict in Syria, between a guerrilla movement backed by growing numbers of army deserters and a regime increasingly bent on repression, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests witnessed at the start of the uprising.

"It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict," said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

"We are heading toward real chaos," he added. "The Syrian public in general is beginning to [realise] that there isn't a magic ending to this, there isn't a regime collapse.

"People had hoped that by peaceful demonstrations they would cause Bashar Assad to resign or he would run away, or that there would be a Tahrir Square moment," Landis said, referring to the epicentre of Egypt's mass protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.

"All that turned out to be wishful thinking."

The United Nations says more than 5 400 people have been killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began in March last year.

Killing machine

But UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on January 25 her organisation had stopped compiling a death toll for Syria's crackdown on the protests because it is too difficult to get information.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, speaking at the Security Council on behalf of the Arab League, said Assad's regime had "failed to make any sincere effort" to end the crisis and believed the only solution was "to kill its own people".

"Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work," he said.

But Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad and one of the regime's top suppliers of weapons, declared that the UN body did not have the authority to impose such a resolution. China voiced support for Russia's position.

Moscow's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, argued that Syria should "be able to decide for itself" and said the Council "cannot impose the parameters for an internal settlement. It simply does not have the mandate to do so".

However, the tone of Tuesday's debate was measured and Churkin said that the latest version of the resolution "gives rise for hope".

Sticking point

"We hope that the Council will come to consensus on the Syrian issue, as is not only possible but also necessary," he said.

France also held out the possibility of a successful UN resolution and said that diplomats would pursue talks.

The key sticking point appeared to be the Arab League call for Assad's speedy departure.

"Regime change is not our profession," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a trip to Australia.

The draft resolution, introduced by Arab League member Morocco, calls for the formation of a unity government leading to "transparent and free elections".

It stresses that there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria as there was in Libya, helping to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Syria defiant

In Washington, US intelligence chief James Clapper said the fall of the Assad regime was in any case inevitable, while warning that it could take "a long time".

But Syria remained defiant, with UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari saying his country would "stand firm in confronting its enemies".

He accused the Western-Arab alliance of "double standards" and of "fomenting the crisis".

Meanwhile, the rebel Free Syrian Army said half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.

"Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime," its Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad said.

He said the morale of government troops was extremely low. "That's why they are bombing indiscriminately, killing men, women and children," he said.

  • mundu.olewega - 2012-02-01 16:25

    China and Russia, two evil regimes, supporting another. No surprises there. I say we should stop buying Chinese stuff and the US & EU sanction all 3 of them. (you can't stop buying Russian one wants their junk anyway).

      Fidel - 2012-02-01 17:55

      If you wish to be wilfully ignorant then good luck to you.

  • SaintBruce - 2012-02-01 18:25

    Hey Fidel, sounds like you support a corrupt government killing it's own people just because they have found out how corrupt it is and want to be ruled fairly. Stalin did this and over 60 million people died due to his paranoia. Is this course of action right and just? Would you like to be oppressed in this way? Show me any modern regime that has been able to top the blood of innocents ( not in war related deaths) on the hands of Josef Stalin! How do you classify him? As a gentle pacifist? Like the leader of Syria. Please don't be dumb on purpose.

      Paul - 2012-02-01 18:30

      What a 'Saint'.

  • Jaba - 2012-02-01 18:58

    More blood on Russia's hands. The People of Syria will never forgive Russia!

  • Anthony - 2012-02-01 19:41

    The fall of this assad is inevitable. The soldiers who have walked over to the demonstrators, and are trying to protect them from assad THUGS, is now in the thousands. But it is ONLY Russia, who will decide , how many more lives have to be lost!!!!!!!

  • Anthony - 2012-02-01 21:52

    Russia should know better than any other country in the world; One can only oppress ,threaten and scare a person to a point. you go over that line, and that person becomes FEARLESS. Tunesia, Egypt and Libya are clear examples, and that's what the ( mostly unarmed ) demonstrators in Syria are; FEARLESS !!!!

  • Mboneni - 2012-02-01 22:05

    Russia and China use their security council seats for their own self interest not to support innocent civilians who are being murdered for demanding freedom to vote.Russia and China do not believe in individual freedom and they are making the United Nations a mockery.The Syrians must be given the chance to vote for the govt of their choice.President Assad will account for what he is doing

      Anthony - 2012-02-02 04:10

      @Muedes, "Libya worse off today" ?? After 41 years of tyranny by a murderers psygopath ?? The Libyans mus be getting soo sick and tired , listening to this pathethic BS coming from the South !!!!! No wonder the Libyans have no time for Africa.

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