Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Failure by the United Nations Security Council to deliver global condemnation of Syria gives President Bashar al-Assad room to continue his deadly 11-month crackdown on protesters.
While thirteen countries in the 15-member UN Security Council voted yesterday to adopt a proposal by Western and Arab countries to end the bloodshed, Russia unleashed its veto to block a draft resolution against its top Mideast ally. Taking Russia’s lead, China also cast a veto.
Assad stands to benefit from the collapse of the resolution a day after reports that security forces killed 330 people in the city of Homs, one of the bloodiest attacks since protests began last March. This is the second time Russia has blocked attempts at the UN to hold Assad accountable for a conflict that the UN says has killed more than 5,400 people.
“The Russian, Chinese veto today is giving Bashar Assad and his regime a license to kill and is a painful blow to the Arabic-Russian relations,” Burhan Ghalioun, president of the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council, told Al- Arabiya television.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Jafari told the council after the vote that the “killing was carried out by terrorist opposition to send you a misleading message in an attempt to influence the vote.”
“The Russian government is not only unapologetically arming a government that is killing its own people, but also providing it with diplomatic cover,” Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch in New York, said.
At least 330 civilians were killed and more than 1,600 wounded as Syrian forces shelled the city of Homs with mortars and artillery Feb. 3, Al-Jazeera reported, citing activists. The death toll in Syria yesterday increased by 95, including 39 in Homs, Al Arabiya reported, citing activists.
“Assad received a substantial cover for his interpretation of the rebels and a diplomatic boost,” said George Lopez, a former UN sanctions investigator at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. “He’s not been weakened by this vote and that is significant.”
A measure of Russia’s growing isolation is that South Africa and India, which had abstained in an October vote on Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China, yesterday broke ranks and sided with Arab and European nations.
Both countries took issue with Russia’s claims that concessions made by Arab and European Union negotiators in the final draft could still be interpreted as calls for an Assad ouster.
“We thought we had a consensus text” and that “everyone was agreed,” Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said in an interview. The Russians wanted “another three days time but with the spiraling violence the council was not in the mood to countenance delayed action.”
South Africa’s Baso Sangqu said “we didn’t want regime change, we didn’t want military intervention and we thought those were taken care of” in a text that was watered down least four times before being put to a vote.
For both Russia and China to veto the resolution after the regime’s assault on Homs and after Arab and Western allies diluted the resolution “effectively means they were helping Assad play for time and ensure his rule,” according to Andrew J. Tabler, Syrian expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Russia, which sells Syria weapons and has its only military base outside the former Soviet Union in the Syrian port of Tartus, defended itself against growing criticism that it’s protecting its own interests in shielding Assad.
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 Arab League, which in November imposed sanctions on Assad, “shall not count on the Council” for endorsement of a plan that imposes a timeline on when Assad should leave.
“Any further blood that flows will be on their hands,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in the council after the vote. The U.S. was “disgusted” by the vetoes and accused Russia and China of standing “behind empty arguments and individual interests,” she said.
Russia’s alignment with Syria puts at stake the Kremlin’s relationship with oil-rich Gulf States led by Qatar that asked the Security Council to endorse their plan to convince Assad to delegate his powers to a deputy to pave way for elections.
Before votes were cast, Russia announced Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would visit Damascus on Feb. 7 to hold talks with Assad. That plan remains in place, Churkin said.
--Editors: Ann Hughey, Marty Schenker.
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