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











Thursday, 9 February 2012

VVP Warns West Against “Interference” in Syria… Moscow Calls Western Surrogates “Illegitimate”… The Saga Continues


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











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