Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Monophysite Patriarch Says “Outsiders” Responsible for Unrest… Arab League Wants to Send New Mission… Russia Wants “Careful Deliberation” Before Any UN Action

Motorcade of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (1950- ) in Damascus  (Damascus GovernorateSYRIA


The BBC reported that Saudi Arabia’s circulating a new resolution on Syria at the UN, a week after Russia and China vetoed a similar measure. The draft resolution “fully supports” an Arab League plan calling on President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy. It also lays the blame for the violence squarely on the Syrian authorities, and calls for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to ensure a peaceful solution to the 11-month-old unrest. The Saudi draft is similar to the one vetoed by Russia and China in the UN Security Council on 4 February. Russia said the Security Council was too “hasty” in bringing the resolution to a vote and described Western condemnation of Moscow’s veto as “hysterical”. Russia is one of Syria’s largest arms suppliers and has a naval base there.

During a visit to Damascus last week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said President Assad was ready for dialogue with all political forces. In a short televised speech on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah criticised Russia’s support for Assad and described its veto as “absolutely regrettable”. On Monday, the UN General Assembly’s due to discuss the crisis in Syria. Iranian Press TV cited diplomatic sources saying the Assembly wouldn’t put the Saudi draft to a vote on Monday, but that there could be a vote later next week. However, General Assembly resolutions aren’t binding, unlike those of the Security Council.


On Sunday, at a meeting with Russian political experts visiting Syria, His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas, the Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, said foreigners are instigating the present Syrian unrest. He told the Russian experts at his residence in Damascus, “The tumult’s being instigated by external forces, not by Syrians”. He also ruled out the possibility of any repressions against Christians living in Syria, saying, “There are no security guards in the Patriarch’s Office, the situation’s calm. Christians in Syria stand secure, in contrast to those in Egypt and Iraq. There isn’t any anti-Christian spirit in Syrian society”. The Syrian state news agency SANA organised the meeting with the patriarch. Today, five churches use the title of Patriarch of Antioch and all the East:


On Sunday, Egyptian television said that the Arab League’s considering a proposal to send a new mission to conflict-torn Syria, including UN monitors. The League also wants to ask the world community to tighten its sanctions on Damascus. The discussion came a week after Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. On Sunday, an Arab League ministerial meeting began in Cairo behind closed doors. The agenda of the meeting centred on the need to settle the Syrian uprising. The Arab League was at the forefront of regional efforts to end violence in Syria. The group put forward a plan that Assad agreed to in December, and, then, sent monitors to Syria. The League withdrew its monitoring mission from Syria in January because the régime failed to stop the continuing bloodshed.


On Sunday, Al Arabiya television reported that Syria rejected an Arab League resolution calling for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force in the country and tightened economic sanctions on Damascus. In a brief headline, the channel reported that Syria rejected the Arab League proposal “completely”. It didn’t give further details.


On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that an international peacekeeping mission to Syria requires approval from Damascus and an end to the present violence. The Arab League ended its observer mission in Syria and asked the UN Security Council on Sunday to send a peacekeeping force to the country. It also called on Arab nations to break diplomatic relations with Damascus to pressure it to put an end to the violence. Lavrov said, “The host country has first to approve a peacekeeping mission. First of all, a peacekeeping mission should have a peace that it’ll then keep”. He also said Moscow was waiting for explanation of the Arab League’s initiative.


The Syrian National Council (SNC), the driving force behind the Syrian opposition, stated that Russia should have a second chance to change its current stance on Syria during voting in the UN Security Council. On Monday, Najib al-Ghadban, a member of the SNC, said in an interview with the newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, “We need to give Russia a second chance, so that it can change its approach to the situation in Syria during voting in the UN Security Council. If Russia uses its veto again in a Security Council resolution on Syria, then, support that can be developed outside the Security Council, which would leave Moscow out of international efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria”. Another SNC member, Haytham al-Malih, believed that “Russia realised that it’s in a difficult situation” after the decision taken by the ministerial meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, saying, “Moscow needs to hold urgent consultation with all parties involved to confirm their involvement in the resolution of the Syrian crisis. We expect that Russia’s position on the Syrian issue will undergo significant changes soon”.


On Monday, Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that most observers expect that EU foreign ministers shall approve a new set of sanctions against Syria at a meeting on 27 February. Earlier reports said that the projected sanctions include a freeze on the assets of the Central Bank of Syria in EU countries, as well as a ban on exports and imports of phosphates, precious metals, and gems.


On Monday, Mikhail Bogdanov, the Presidential Middle East Ambassador, said that Russia doesn’t rule out participation in a potential UN peacekeeping mission to Syria. He told Ekho Moskvy FM radio, “As for such a mission, we need an agreement with the Syrian government. There’d be a question about its members, mandate, and disposition. If we agreed to the terms of the mission’s presence in the country, if it fulfilled the principles of the UN Charter, there’d be no problem”. Also on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) said it suspended operations at the Russian Embassy School in Damascus, saying, “We took this decision for the safety of the children studying there”. The MID added that the Russian embassy itself would continue normal operations.


On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that the UN Security Council must approve the mandate of any international mission in Syria. The last meeting of the Arab League proposed that the UN send peacekeeping forces to Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was studying the suggestions of the Arab League. Later, Presidential Middle East Ambassador Mikhail Bogdanov added that Russia didn’t rule out participation in a potential UN peacekeeping mission to Syria. Gatilov said, “Such a mandate would require very careful deliberation, as we’ve already seen what happened in Libya. Our Western partners later interpreted the approved mandate in their own fashion; in fact, their activity went beyond this mandate. We’re ready to consider such an option, but we should know exactly what kind of mission we’re talking about. At the moment, we’ve heard conflicting versions; it isn’t clear whether some want a military mission or a peacekeeping force”. During consultations with Israel, Gatilov discussed issues related to cooperation at the UN and the problems surrounding the reform process in the UN.

 11-14 February 2012











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