Bloomberg News

Russia Shows No Sign of Buckling to Pressure to Isolate Syria

December 02, 2011

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Russia today voted against an attempt to refer human-rights violations in Syria to the United Nation Security Council, the latest signal it was still standing by a Soviet-era ally to whom it sells weapons.

Economic sanctions imposed on Syria by the Arab League are “counterproductive” and efforts to have the UN’s most powerful body follow suit would “fan confrontation,” Russia’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters in New York. He said Russia is a “responsible weapons supplier” whose sales to the region dwarfed those of the U.S.

Increasingly isolated in offering cover for President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Russia was one of four countries in the 47-member UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to oppose a call to action by “all UN relevant bodies” to respond to the “gross violations of human rights” by the Syrian regime. China, Cuba and Ecuador also voted against the resolution, which was backed by 37 countries, and co-sponsored by five Arab nations.

Those holdouts drew criticism from Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch in New York, who said that “the time has come for the Security Council to follow the lead of the Arab League and Turkey and impose sanctions.”

“It should put in place an arms embargo as well as an asset freeze and travel ban on Syrian officials responsible for the abuses, and refer the case to the International Criminal Court,” he said.

Russia’s resistance comes as the UN this week said the estimated death toll from Assad’s crackdown on dissenters exceeds 4,000 and the top UN human-rights official said the Arab nation was slipping into “full-fledged civil war.”

Assad’s Defense

Assad’s government says it’s fighting foreign conspirators, armed gangs and Islamists. Still, the mounting evidence against Assad has done little to shift Russia’s stance as the U.S. and Europe seek to build up a case to bring Syria back on the Security Council agenda. In a rare double veto not seen since 2008, China joined Russia on Oct. 4 to block a draft resolution that called for Assad to halt the crackdown that began in March.

“It is becoming increasingly clear, particularly to his neighbors, that President Assad is tearing his country apart,” the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said in a message on Twitter Inc.’s service.

Russia leads critics who say a UN mandate in Libya was abused to bring about regime change and led to the death of Muammar Qaddafi.

Asked about Syria, Churkin today said it wasn’t the function of the 15-nation Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions and authorize military action, to pursue confrontation.

‘Smell Blood’

“The international community is not there to smell blood and to fan confrontation,” he said. “The international community is there to prevent further bloodshed and to encourage dialogue.”

South Africa, Brazil and India are among the nations on the council wary that a Libyan-style involvement may be repeated in Syria even though the European-led initiatives on Syria don’t seek authority for military intervention.

Those nations appear open to reevaluating their positions in light of developments. India, for example, abstained today in the council vote in Geneva and has expressed concern that violence in Syria is getting out of hand.

For now, paralysis in the Security Council has propelled nations to act alone.

Growing Sanctions

The European Union yesterday banned the export of equipment and technology to the Syrian oil and gas industry as well as of equipment and software for monitoring the Internet and phones. The U.S. expanded sanctions to include one of Assad’s uncles, a commander of Syria’s elite 4th Armored Division, and the Real Estate Bank, described by the U.S. Treasury Department as Syria’s second-largest bank.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbor, said it will freeze Syrian government assets and suspend dealings with the country’s central bank in line with the sanctions imposed this week by the 21-member Arab League, which this month suspended Syria’s membership.

Russia’s close economic and military ties with the Assad regime may account in part for its defense of him. Syria allowed Russia to build a Russian naval base on the Syrian coast that gives it a presence in the Mediterranean Sea. The port of Tartous is the only Russian base outside the former Soviet republics.

Russia also has weapons contracts with Syria worth at least $3 billion, according to the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

--With assistance from Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Terry Atlas, Bob Drummond

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at jfreedman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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