Russia’s UN Veto Gives Syria ‘License to Kill’

Failure by the United Nations Security Council to deliver global condemnation of Syria gives President Bashar al-Assad room to continue his 11-month crackdown on protesters.

While 13 countries in the 15-member Security Council voted yesterday to adopt a proposal by Western and Arab countries to end the bloodshed, Russia used its veto to block the draft resolution against its top Mideast ally. Taking Russia’s lead, China also cast a veto.

Assad stands to benefit from the collapse of the resolution a day after reports that security forces killed 330 people in the city of Homs, one of the bloodiest attacks since protests began last March. This is the second time Russia has blocked attempts at the UN to hold Assad accountable for a conflict that the UN says has killed more than 5,400 people.

The veto gives Assad a “license to kill,” Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalid Al Attiyah said today at a security conference in Munich. “Yesterday was a sad day,” he said. “This is exactly what we feared.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Jafari told the council after the vote that the “killing was carried out by terrorist opposition to send you a misleading message in an attempt to influence the vote.”

‘Doomed Regime’

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Syria’s government was bound to fall and that the UN will return to the subject of violence in Syria. “This is a doomed regime, as well as a murdering regime,” Hague told Sky News. “There’s no way it can get its credibility back.”

Syrian rebels killed nine soldiers in fighting overnight in Idlib, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today. Twenty-one soldiers were wounded and four military vehicles were damaged, the group said.

Syria halted operations at a sugar refinery in the central city of Homs due to security conditions, Al Arabiya television reported today without saying where it obtain the information.

At least 330 civilians were killed and more than 1,600 wounded as Syrian forces shelled the city of Homs with mortars and artillery Feb. 3, Al-Jazeera reported, citing activists. The death toll in Syria yesterday increased by 95, including 39 in Homs, Al Arabiya reported, citing activists.

Russian Isolation

A measure of Russia’s growing isolation is that South Africa and India, which had abstained in an October vote on Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China, yesterday broke ranks and sided with Arab and European nations.

Both countries took issue with Russia’s claims that concessions made by Arab and European Union negotiators in the final draft could still be interpreted as calls for an Assad ouster.

“We thought we had a consensus text” and that “everyone was agreed,” Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said in an interview. The Russians wanted “another three days time but with the spiraling violence the council was not in the mood to countenance delayed action.”

For both Russia and China to veto the resolution after the regime’s assault on Homs and after Arab and Western allies diluted the resolution “effectively means they were helping Assad play for time and ensure his rule,” according to Andrew J. Tabler, Syrian expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Weapons Sales

Russia sells Syria weapons and has its only military base outside the former Soviet Union in the Syrian port of Tartus.

The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said that, while he “would certainly agree tragic events are happening” in Syria, his country had “made an honest effort.” He said the Arab League, which in November imposed sanctions on Assad, “shall not count on the Council” for endorsement of a plan that imposes a timeline on when Assad should leave.

China said it voted against the resolution because the declaration may further complicate events in Syria.

Any move to “put undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government, prejudge the result of the dialogue or impose any solution” won’t help resolve the Syrian issue, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on its website today.

Russia’s alignment with Syria may put at stake the Kremlin’s relationship with oil-rich Gulf States led by Qatar that asked the Security Council to endorse their plan to convince Assad to delegate his powers to a deputy to pave way for elections.

Before votes were cast, Russia announced that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would visit Damascus on Feb. 7 to hold talks with Assad. Lavrov will be accompanied by Mikhail Fradkov, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid in Washington at zalhamid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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