Russia won’t back the U.S. and its Arab allies in a United Nations resolution to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as it seeks to defend its most important lever in the Middle East, said researchers from Moscow to London.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a diplomatic push in the UN Security Council today to sanction Syria, which hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union and is a buyer of Russian weapons. Russia is willing to use its Security Council veto to block the resolution, which calls on Assad to transfer powers to his deputy, a senior foreign ministry official said today.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian uprising, according to the UN. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to return to the presidency in March elections and last week accused the U.S. of needing “vassals” rather than allies. He opposed President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to refrain from vetoing the UN resolution that paved the way for military action in Libya.
“The Russians aren’t likely to back down, even if it’s going to get very uncomfortable for them to continue backing Syria,” said Thomas Gomart, director of the Russian Center at the French Institute of Foreign Relation in Paris. “If they surrender on this issue, their whole parade in the Middle East would crumble.”
‘Not a Friend’
Failure to secure UN approval for the departure of Assad may bolster his regime, prolonging a standoff as the U.S. and Europe step up sanctions to pressure Syrian ally Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Russia argues that the UN-sanctioned bombing of Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was abused to bring about regime change and that the U.S. and western European governments are trying to repeat that scenario in Syria.
“We are not a friend, we are not an ally of President Assad,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. television today in Sydney. “We never said President Assad remaining in power is the solution to the crisis. What we did say is it is up to the Syrians themselves to decide how to run the country.”
The West is putting pressure on Syria because the country refuses to break off its alliance with Iran and not for repressing the opposition, Russian Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev said Jan. 12.
“Russia appears concerned about heightened instability in the area at large, the prospect of further empowering Islamists, and the West’s typically cavalier attempts to push its agenda under the guise of noble moral values,” Peter Harling, director for Egypt, Syria and Lebanon at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in e-mailed comments on Jan. 29.