Russia, which blocked a United Nations resolution that targeted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad yesterday, won’t allow Western nations to use the UN to validate “regime change,” a senior official said.
“Russia has the feeling that a number of Western nations are ready to use outside pressure, including military force, to change the political system in certain countries,” Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in a phone interview from Moscow today. “This can’t be allowed to become the norm for international relations just because one side has military power.”
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called Russia’s veto a “slap in the face,” and said the U.S. was “outraged” that the UN Security Council had failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security.
The European-drafted resolution warned of measures within 30 days unless the Syrian regime halts its deadly seven-month crackdown against dissenters.
After abstaining in a March vote that authorized NATO-led military action in Libya, Russia has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and European nations for overstepping the mandate to protect Libyan civilians and seeking to topple Muammar Qaddafi instead. Russia has warned against any similar effort to overthrow Assad.
“We’ve warned from the beginning that efforts to turn what happened with the UN resolution on Libya into a model for action by Western coalitions, NATO, are absolutely unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters today in Moscow. Russia’s misgivings about the Western-backed UN resolution on Syria were “repeatedly ignored,” giving Russia no option but to exercise its veto, he said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who announced Sept. 24 that he plans to return to the Kremlin next May by swapping jobs with his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, said in March that Western allies were on a “crusade” in Libya, and have been indiscriminately waging “strikes all over the country” after pocketing billions of dollars in contracts from Qaddafi.
“The experience of the Libyan resolution taught us a lot, when imprecise language was used by NATO countries to greatly overstep the mandate and to use military force to change the political system in the country and not just to protect civilians,” Kosachyov said. “This is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated with Syria.”
Opposition groups this month set up the Syrian National Council, following the example of the umbrella group established by rebels in Libya that is now running the country.
More than 3,600 civilians have died since protests began in March, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 are still being held, he said. About 700 members of the state security forces have been killed in the uprising, according to the government.
Russia and China, two of five veto-wielding members in the Security Council, blocked the measure that had the support of nine nations in the 15-member body. Lebanon, India, Brazil and South Africa abstained.
Russia has close economic and military ties with Syria, which has been an ally since the Soviet era. It maintains a servicing point for naval vessels in the country’s Mediterranean port of Tartous, its only military facility outside the former Soviet republics. Russia also has weapons contracts with Syria valued at at least $3 billion, according to the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
Putin will take a tougher stance on foreign policy than Medvedev, who was responsible for the abstention on the Libya resolution, said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow.
“Putin treats the outside world with more irritation than Medvedev as he has more experience and he thinks that in the years when he tried to mend relations with the West in response he got the opposite,” said Lukyanov.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy to “reset” ties with Russia, which yielded cooperation on sanctions against Iran and transit of military supplies to Afghanistan, may now run into difficulties, said Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think-tank.
“After Putin returns, the Russian position toward the U.S. on a number of important issues such as Syria, Iran even North Korea may become more intractable,” he said. “The next president of the United States, whoever it may be, will have a tougher ride than Obama did so far.”
Even so, Igor Shuvalov, one of Putin’s two first deputies, said yesterday his country seeks stronger ties with the U.S. and won’t forget the “reset” in relations Washington.
Shuvalov, in a speech in Chicago, said he delivered that message from Putin to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in a meeting yesterday in Washington.
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