Russia will “never allow” the United Nations Security Council to authorize a Libya-style operation to resolve the political crisis in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
“We are not a friend, we are not an ally of President Assad,” 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.”
Russia is willing to use its Security Council veto to block a resolution proposed by U.S. and western European nations and their Arab allies that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to transfer powers to his deputy, a senior Foreign Ministry official said today.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a diplomatic push in the UN Security Council to sanction Syria, which hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union and where more than 5,000 people have been killed since March 2011 according to the UN. Russia argues that the UN-sanctioned bombing of Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was abused to bring about regime change and that Western governments are trying to repeat that in Syria.
“The international community unfortunately did take sides in Libya and we would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya,” Lavrov told the ABC’s Lateline program during a visit to mark 70 years of diplomatic ties between Russia and Australia. A second Libya “would be a disaster for the Arab world and for world politics,” he said.
Calling for Assad to cede power as demanded by the Western-Arab resolution before the end of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition is premature, said the foreign ministry official, who declined to be identified as per ministry policy. Russia may use its veto, convince another Security Council member to veto the plan or work to have the proposal withdrawn before a vote, the official said.
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.
“We condemn strongly the use of force by government forces against civilians,” Lavrov said, referring to the violence in Syria. “But we condemn in the same strong way the activities of the armed extremist groups who attack government positions, who attack the administration of various provinces of Syria, who attack police stations and who terrorize people, telling them not to come to jobs, not to hospitals, not to come to shops.”
Russia maintains a servicing point for naval vessels in the Syrian port of Tartous, where about 600 Defense Ministry staff are stationed, according to the Izvestia newspaper, giving it access to the Mediterranean. Russia dismissed U.S. criticism after a ship delivered Russian ammunition to Syria this month. It also signed a $550 million deal to sell 26 Yak-130 jet trainer aircraft to the country, according to the Kommersant newspaper.
“We are arming the constitutional government,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia was implementing contractual obligations in delivering the weapons. “The arms we are selling to Syria, they are not used against demonstrators.”
The Syrian leader’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled his country for three decades until his death in 2000, was a close ally of the Soviet Union. This month, three Russian warships, including the country’s only aircraft carrier, visited Tartous in what a former head of the Russian navy said was a show of force aimed at preventing NATO military involvement in Syria.
“The international community must speak with one voice,” Lavrov said, referring to the path to resolve the crisis. “If we want to end violence in respect to where it comes from, then all those countries on whose soil various opposition groups are present, they must lean on those groups, we all must lean on the Syrian government, and tell them you must sit down and stop this. You must agree how your country is going to be run.”
He said Russia wouldn’t “prejudge the outcome” of such talks, “whether this would involve the president of Syria leaving, or whether there would be some other solution.”