Assad Ouster Bid May Unleash ‘Chaos in Mideast,’ Russia Says

Russia warned that any efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by military force would unleash chaos in the Middle East, saying it categorically opposes outside “interference.”

The European Union tightened sanctions against Syria last week, banning imports of crude oil from the country after Russia blocked efforts by the EU and U.S. to impose punitive measures through the United Nations.

“Russia is categorically against any interference, especially military, in the internal affairs of a country,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said yesterday in a response to e-mailed questions. “Efforts to resolve the problems in Syria through outside force would provoke utter chaos in the Middle East.”

The government dispatched Bogdanov to Damascus on Aug. 29 to urge Assad to implement promised political changes and halt violence against protesters. Russia, which maintains its only military facility in the Middle East in Syria, a Soviet-era ally, has rejected U.S. and European calls for Assad to step down after a crackdown on unrest since March.

Russia will host Syrian opposition representatives for the second time in Moscow on Sept. 9, Mikhail Margelov, the Russian president’s envoy to Africa and the Middle East, said today.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also meet with Assad’s media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, in Moscow next week, the ministry said yesterday. Shaaban is one of three Syrian officials who had sanctions imposed on them by the U.S. Treasury Department last month.

‘Halt the Bloodshed’

“The most important thing for us is to halt the bloodshed in Syria and for that to happen, you need to talk to all sides,” Margelov said in an interview in Yaroslavl, central Russia.

More than 2,450 civilians and 700 members of the security forces have been killed during the crackdown, while 15,000 people have been injured and at least 20,000 are in prison, according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Syrian security forces killed 12 people today in the central city of Homs after storming it and cutting off telecommunications, Al Arabiya television reported.

Russia last month blocked U.S. and European efforts to sanction Syria through the United Nations Security Council with an arms embargo and freeze on Assad’s foreign financial assets.

‘Strong Signal’

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that the Security Council must send “a strong signal so this brutal repression ends.” He was speaking at a briefing with his Russian counterpart Lavrov after talks in Moscow between the foreign and defense ministers of France and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lavrov said “radical” elements within the Syrian opposition were stoking violence.

“EU countries and the U.S. have already imposed sweeping unilateral sanctions against the Syrian leadership, and no one consulted with us,” Bogdanov said. “We need to switch the focus from repressive methods to encouraging the authorities and opposition to discuss reforms.”

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have condemned the violence and urged an immediate end to killings of protesters.

Triggering Collapse

Any efforts by the U.S. and Europe to force regime change in Syria after they intervened to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi risk triggering the country’s collapse and further instability in the Middle East, Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Russian lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in an Aug. 22 interview.

The success of the rebels in Libya has implications for U.S. policy toward Syria, Ben Rhodes, deputy U.S. national security adviser for strategic communications, said Aug. 22.

“It sends a message to Assad that the trends are against those who try to crack down and stifle change,” Rhodes said.

Russia has said it won’t halt weapons deliveries to Syria. Arms contracts with the country are worth at least $3 billion, according to Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. The orders include Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets and Pantsir short-range air-defense systems.

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