Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Syria’s opposition urged Russia to support calls for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, promising to guarantee Russian interests after his departure.
Assad’s regime is benefiting from Russian backing in “dodging” an agreement with the Arab League to end a bloody crackdown on protesters, Burhan Ghalioun, a senior leader of the Syrian National Council, said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow today.
“The interests of Russia will be guaranteed in a new Syria,” another member of the Syrian opposition delegation, Radwan Ziadeh, told reporters.
Lavrov’s decision to host the Syrian National Council, an umbrella movement uniting several of the country’s opposition groups formed on Oct. 2, marked Russia’s highest-level contact with Assad government opponents. The Foreign Ministry urged the Syrian opposition to implement an Arab League-brokered peace accord by agreeing to talks with the government, according to a statement released after the meeting. Ghalioun said the only purpose of such talks would be to secure Assad’s removal from power.
Russia, which together with China blocked an Oct. 4 United Nations resolution that threatened punitive measures against Assad, strongly backed the Arab League plan accepted by Syria earlier this month.
After a continuing crackdown by security forces, the Arab League said Nov. 12 that Syria will be barred from the group’s meetings until it withdraws tanks from cities, releases detained protesters and starts supervised talks with the opposition.
Assad has blamed foreign provocateurs and Islamic militants for the violence surrounding anti-government protests that erupted in March. More than 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since March, according to the UN.
After abstaining in a March vote that authorized NATO-led military action in Libya, Russia repeatedly criticized the U.S. and European nations for overstepping the mandate to protect Libyan civilians and seeking to topple Muammar Qaddafi instead.
Russian officials also expressed concerns their country could lose billions of dollars in weapons and civilian contracts with Libya as a result of the change of regime.
Russia has close economic and military ties with Syria, which has been an ally since the Soviet era. It maintains a servicing point for naval vessels in the country’s Mediterranean port of Tartous, its only military facility outside the former Soviet republics. Russia also has weapons contracts with Syria valued at at least $3 billion, according to the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
--With assistance from Nayla Razzouk in Dubai. Editors: Paul Abelsky, Alan Crawford
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