MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it would veto any U.N. resolution on Syria that it finds unacceptable, after demanding any measure rule out military intervention to halt the bloodshed touched off by protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The political violence in Syria has killed at least 5,000 people in the past 10 months and activists say Assad’s forces have stepped up operations this week on opposition strongholds, from Damascus suburbs to the cities of Hama, Homs and the border provinces of Deraa and Idlib.
Arab and Western states urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to act swiftly on a resolution calling for Assad to hand over powers to his deputy and defuse the 11-month-old uprising against his family’s dynastic rule.
“If the text will be unacceptable for us we will vote against it, of course,” Russian U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters in Moscow via a videolink from New York.
“If it is a text that we consider erroneous, that will lead to a worsening of the crisis, we will not allow it to be passed. That is unequivocal,” he said.
His remarks came hours after Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said there was no chance the Western-Arab draft text could be accepted unless it expressly rejected armed intervention.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members, have resisted a Western push for a resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on unrest.
Despite the Russian comments, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said a “window of hope” had opened. “We will work furiously in the next few days to try and get a resolution that will allow the Arab League to forge ahead in finding a solution,” he told parliament in Paris.
Russia says the West exploited fuzzy wording in a March 2011 U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya to turn a mandate to protect civilians in the North African country’s uprising into a push to remove the government, backed by NATO air strikes, that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia has also expressed concern that the draft’s threat of further measures against Syria could lead to sanctions, which it opposes. Its diplomats also want to remove the draft’s support for the Arab League’s plan for Assad to cede power.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has led the Arab League’s efforts to tackle the Syrian crisis, attempted to allay Moscow and Beijing’s objections, saying it was trying to avoid a Libyan-style foreign role.
“We are not calling for foreign intervention,” he said. “We are advocating the exertion of concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realize that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people”.
He told the 15-member Security Council that Syria’s “killing machine is still at work”.
An activist group said Syrian troops killed eight people in the central city of Homs and that 15 government soldiers were killed in a clash with a defector unit. Syria’s state news agency SANA said a general, Rajeh Mahmoud, was killed along with three soldiers on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday.
Syrian insurgents said Assad’s forces extended a military sweep overnight to counter a rebel threat that had reached the gates of the capital, sending armor into eastern and northern suburbs that Assad’s forces took over this week. An activist group said at least 25 people had been killed in that sweep.
In Wadi Barada on the edge of the capital, four people were killed in a tank bombardment on Wednesday to flush out rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) units operating near the capital, activists said. A rebel spokesman put the death toll at 15.
SANA said troops killed 11 members of an “armed terrorist group” outside the southern city of Deraa, and that government forces discovered bomb factories and field hospitals in a raid on armed cells in Irbin and Sabqa, Damascus suburbs where insurgents had appeared recently.
It was not possible to verify the reports as Syria restricts access for independent media.
CALL FOR ACTION
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called on the U.N. Security Council to take “rapid and decisive action” by approving the resolution.
“Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight,” he said.
The United States strongly endorsed the appeal from the Arab League and Qatar for “rapid and decisive action”, but China reiterated its reservations.
“China is firmly opposed to the use of force to solve the Syrian problem and resolutely opposes pushing for forced regime change in Syria, as it violates the United Nations Charter and the basic norms guiding the practice of international relations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Li Baodong as telling the Security Council.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari rejected the suggestion his government was responsible for the crisis and accused Western powers of dreaming of “the return of colonialism and hegemony” in the Middle East.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the policy of isolation and trying to remove the government risked igniting a “much bigger drama” in the Middle East.
“The people who are obsessed with removing regimes in the region, they should be really thinking about the broader picture. And I’m afraid that if this vigor to change regimes persists, we are going to witness a very bad situation much, much, much broader than just Syria, Libya, Egypt or any other single country.”