Russia urged the U.S. and its allies to strike a compromise over their efforts to impose United Nations sanctions and the threat of military action against Syria after talks today with UN envoy Kofi Annan.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said world powers should reach an agreement like they did last month in Geneva, when Russian objections succeeded in removing a proposed ban on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle from serving in a future power-sharing government.
“We reached a difficult compromise in Geneva,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after Annan met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. “I don’t see any reason we can’t reach an agreement based on similar principles in the Security Council.”
Russia, an ally of Syria since Soviet times, has vowed to use its veto as a permanent Security Council member to block the Western-drafted resolution that targets Assad. Putin has shielded Syria from international action over its crackdown on the 16-month uprising after Russian acquiescence to NATO-led military action against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi ended in his ouster and killing last year.
“I don’t see any sign of possible compromise,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. “Western and Arab countries are insisting on a resolution that contains the harshest possible measures and Russia has made it clear that it won’t support this.”
Annan, a former UN secretary-general whose five-month efforts to end the conflict in Syria have floundered as violence spreads in the Middle Eastern state, also called for unity at the organization’s decision-making body.
“I hope the council will continue discussions and hopefully find the language that will pull everybody together,” Annan said, warning that the Syrian crisis has reached a “critical” point.
Lavrov yesterday said his country could not support the proposed resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which empowers the Security Council to impose sanctions and authorizes military means to enforce its will. A vote is scheduled for tomorrow. He accused the U.S. and its partners of blackmailing Russia to back the measure or face an end to the UN monitoring mission in Syria.
The three-month mandate for the UN’s Syrian mission expires July 20 and the U.S. has signaled repeatedly that without adopting measures with bite against Syria, it’s prepared to send home the 300 UN observers.
Russia charges that Western powers have reneged on pledges at a conference in Geneva last month to put pressure on both sides in Syria to halt violence and begin negotiations on a power-sharing government. Russian officials have criticized Qatar and Saudi Arabia for arming the rebels.
If the observer mission is terminated, that would remove the only independent means of monitoring the conflict, Lavrov said yesterday before meeting Annan. The fighting has killed at least 10,000 people, according to the UN.
The rebel Free Syrian Army today battled government soldiers in central Damascus, the heart of Assad’s power base, pressing on with three days of fighting in areas of the capital, according to opposition groups.
Russia will probably go ahead with its threat to veto the resolution, which will result in Western and Arab condemnation and “massively increased financial and military assistance to the Syrian rebels to try and overthrow Assad,” Lukyanov said.