On Wednesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia condemns the present violence in Syria, but it’s against outside interference, saying, “We certainly condemn all violence wherever it comes from. However, you can’t act like a bull in a china shop”. According to the UN, at least 5,400 people have died in the Syrian government’s 11-month crackdown on protesters. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda, and they say that more than 2,000 soldiers and police lost their lives in the conflict. Putin said that other countries may help and advise Syria “but not interfere under any circumstances. The [Syrian] people must decide their future themselves”. “The culture of violence” that’s taken centre-stage in international affairs over the past decade concerns Russia, Putin said, saying, “We should not let anything like this happen in this country”.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the Arab world, the USA, and the EU to refrain from passing judgement on the national dialogue in Syria that Moscow had pledged to assist. Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia “must realise that betting everything on Assad is a recipe for failure… not just for Russia’s interests in Syria, but for the stability of the region and for Syria’s future”. Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Thirteen of the council’s 15 members voted in favour of the resolution aimed to stop the violence in Syria. The West has tried to persuade Moscow to support a resolution effectively authorising a military operation, but Russia’s repeatedly insisted that the Western drive for a stronger crackdown on Syria is preparation for a “Libyan scenario”. Russia, one of President al-Assad’s firm supporters during the uprising, indicated earlier this week that it’d veto any draft resolution calling on Assad to step down. Moscow proposed its own draft, which the West criticised as being too soft.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin press service said that President Dmitri Medvedev and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to coordinate their efforts in search for a solution to the Syria crisis, saying, “Medvedev stressed the need to continue the search for coordinated approaches to help the Syrians solve the crisis themselves, without outside interference, with complete respect for Syria’s sovereignty”. Medvedev and Erdoğan discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone conversation initiated by the Turkish side. Medvedev also defended the Russian-Chinese veto on a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Medvedev said, “That resolution wouldn’t have been conducive to the search for a peaceful solution to the crisis”.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin said that President Dmitri Medvedev told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone conversation that the international community’s position on Syria should be objective and balanced. Medvedev informed Sarkozy of the meeting on Tuesday between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a Russian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which stated that Moscow’s prepared to continue being a mediator in the Syrian crisis, but the bloodbath in Syria is unacceptable. The Kremlin press service said, “In the context of continuing the difficult work, including by the UN Security Council, to regulate the Syrian crisis, Medvedev called on [Russia's] partners to avoid any hasty unilateral steps”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the UN and the Arab League are considering sending a joint observer mission to Syria in a renewed effort to stop the violence caused by a political crisis there. On Wednesday, Ban told reporters, after a closed-door UN Security Council session, that Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby of the Arab League intended to send an observer mission back to Syria and asked for UN help, saying, “He further suggested that we consider a joint observer mission in Syria, including a joint special envoy. We stand ready to assist in any way that will contribute towards improvement on the ground and to the overall situation”. In January, the Arab League announced the suspension of its observer mission, which has been in Syria since late December 2011, over what it described as a serious worsening of the security situation in Syria.
On Thursday, citing the Syrian opposition, Al Arabiya TV reported that an artillery bombardment on Wednesday (that began on 4 February) killed at least 117 people in the Syrian city of Homs. The opposition told Al Arabiya that at least 40 armoured vehicles and 50 infantry fighting vehicles accompanied by 1,000 troops deployed in Homs from positions near the Lebanese border. Witnesses said that they could hear blasts in Homs almost every minute. Observers also spotted government armoured vehicles on the outskirts of the city. Earlier reports said that over 200 people had died in clashes in Homs on Saturday. The government forces used tanks, artillery, and mortars.
On Thursday, the newspaper Asharq Alawsat reported, citing the deputy head of the Arab League, Ahmad Bin Helli, that the Arab League, Russia, and China would jointly coordinate efforts to end the violence in Syria. Bin Helli told the paper that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, was also in a close contact with the Arab League’s head, Nabil al-Araby, saying, “I’ve also received a letter from the Chinese ambassador that expressed Beijing’s position on a settlement for the Syrian crisis settlement”, adding that China is pushing for cooperation with Arab countries.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said that a delegation from the Syrian opposition was on a four-day visit to Beijing, its first visit to China since Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution on Syria. The Syrian opposition leaders met with the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, Zhai Jun, and other top diplomats. China neither supports nor opposes any of the sides in Syria, Liu Weimin said, adding that Beijing seeks a peaceful solution of the Syrian conflict. The Chinese position resonates with Moscow’s plan aimed at keeping Assad in power despite its utter rejection by the opposition.
On Thursday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that Moscow considers the US-backed Friends of Syria Group illegitimate. On Sunday, the day after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution on Syria pushing for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed setting up a group that would “work with the friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the opposition’s peaceful, political plans for change”. Lukashevich said Moscow sharply opposed any move aimed at boosting external interference in the country’s domestic affairs, saying, “We’re very cautious about various proposals, which we don’t consider legitimate in terms of international legal norms”. Lukashevich also expressed Russian concern about recent reports in the Israeli media that British and Qatari troops had gone to Syria to fight Assad’s government forces.
On Thursday, a Defence Ministry spokesman reiterated the position stated earlier by the MID that Russia would do its best to prevent military intervention in Syria. Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov told Vesti 24 TV news, “As for Syria, we see that harsh discussions are going on in New York, and we’re giving backup to our colleagues from the MID who’re tackling these problems. Of course, we think it’s necessary to prevent any military intervention in Syria”.
Syrian state TV reported that pro-government troops chased “armed terrorist groups” in the western Syrian city of al-Qusayr on the border with Lebanon. On Thursday, two soldiers died in an operation against militants “planting mines in houses and streets, attacking civilian residents and police”. According to a Syria TV broadcast, life “is gradually returning to normal” in Homs, another city in the same province, and a hotspot of the present uprising against the régime of President Bashar al-Assad. Footage from the city shows streets full of people and open shops. However, smoke still blankets some parts of the city, with occasional shots heard. Reports vary about the number of casualties from the five-day “antiterrorist operation” by Syrian troops in Homs. CNN said a total of 105 people died in the shelling of Homs, while Agence France-Presse said, citing the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), that 57 people died in Homs and four more died near another Syrian city, al-Rastan. SOHR put the overall civilian death toll of the “antiterrorist operation” at 400 people. Syrian authorities maintain that militants are trying to “provoke a foreign military intervention” by firing mortar rounds at residential areas of Homs and “making fake videos to show that government forces attack residential districts”.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the lower house of parliament, the RF Gosduma, will discuss a draft statement to express serious concern about the violence in Syria and heated international debates on the issue. The document calls on the UN and the Security Council to abstain from supporting one side or the other in the conflict and criticised the approach of certain Western and Arab states, who wish to “predict the results of the political process in Syria, make ultimatums to one of the sides, and portray régime change as a vital precondition for solving the Syrian problem”.
Since early February, a number of countries recalled their embassies from Syria, including Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the USA, and Germany. On Tuesday, six Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors and ordered Syrian diplomats to leave their countries. On Thursday, the Libyan Interior Ministry followed suit, ordering Syrian diplomats to leave the country in 72 hours.
8-10 February 2012