Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that backed an Arab League plan to “facilitate” a political transition in Syria.
Thirteen of the council’s 15 members voted in favor today of a proposal by Western and Arab countries to end the bloodshed in Syria. Russia and China, two of the five permanent council members with veto power, blocked its passage.
Almost a year after the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began, Russia has now blocked two attempts to take action against its top Mideast ally. The vote came a day after reports that Assad’s security forces in the city of Homs killed about 330 people in one of the bloodiest days of protest in the 11-month uprising.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said she was “disgusted” by the vetoes that “prop up desperate dictators.” French Ambassador Gerard Araud said “history will judge harshly” those who protected the Assad regime.
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 resolution put to a vote “did not adequately reflect the real state of affairs in Syria.”
Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Jafari told the council after the vote that the killings yesterday and today in Homs were “carried out by terrorist opposition to send you a misleading message in an attempt to influence the vote.”
The UN says Assad’s regime has killed more than 5,400 people and that the uprising is evolving into a civil war.
Russia and China blocked a Security Council resolution in October, when Western powers sought to hold the Syrian president responsible for violence. Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union is in Syria, and it sells weapons to Assad’s government.
“Vetoes by Moscow and Beijing four months ago were irresponsible,” said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, after weeks of Russian diplomatic games-playing and in the middle of a bloodbath in Homs, they are simply incendiary.”
In a final effort to win Russian acceptance, Arab and European Union negotiators made concessions in response to objections that the proposal endorsed regime change.
The draft that was voted on by the council said there should be no “prejudging the outcome” of the political process and that “nothing in this resolution authorizes” military action, responding to Russian concern that last March’s UN authorization of all necessary measures to protect civilians was used to bring down Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
Arab and EU diplomats refused to barter on the degree of support to give for the Arab League plan, a sticking point in week-long negotiations.
“For Russia and China to double veto after the regime’s brutal assault on Homs last eve, after the West diluted the resolution language to suit Russia’s demands, effectively means they were helping Assad play for time and ensure his rule,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Syria.