By Dmitry Zaks / AFP
MOSCOW: Russia said Friday it opposed an “unbalanced” Washington-backed UN draft resolution on Syria because it failed to call for a simultaneous halt in violence by the government and rebels.
The warning came amid tense consultations over a draft resolution aimed at showing the Damascus regime that world opinion had turned against it after nearly a year of violence which, according to the opposition, has claimed nearly 8,500 lives.
Russia and China had previously blocked two UN initiatives because they singled out President Bashar Al-Assad for blame and world powers have been under pressure by Moscow to tone down their condemnation of the regime.
Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the text under discussion today was still “unbalanced.”
“Its main problem is the absence of a simultaneous call on all sides to take practical steps in the context of ceasing fire,” Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
Gatilov said Russia was receiving reports that the UN Security Council intended to put the resolution up for a vote at a meeting on Monday and he strongly discouraged world powers from going ahead with the plan.
“It is unacceptable to tie the adoption of any text with a deadline. The time factor is not the most important thing,” Gatilov said.
“The most important thing is to find a text that is realistic, without ambiguity, and aimed at a stable settlement,” he stressed.
A draft of the new resolution obtained by AFP “demands” that the Syrian government “immediately” cease all violence and “calls” on opposition groups to “refrain from all violence” once these conditions are met.
The use of the word “calls” is pointedly weaker than the “demands” made to the Syrian government.
Gatilov’s comments underline Russia’s long-held view that the West was taking a biased approach to the crisis with the aim of ousting Assad, a long-time Russian ally.
Russia has also accused the West of considering its own military campaign against Assad after using NATO-led forces to eliminate the regime in Libya, another erstwhile Moscow ally.
Moscow’s representative to the United Nations on Wednesday accused Libya of helping to train Syrian rebels.
Russia’s prime concern with the draft resolution appears to be that it might allow rebels to swarm cities held by Assad’s army and eventually oust him from power.
“It is unrealistic to expect one side (the Syrian government) to cease its use of force when it knows that the other will occupy the vacated territories,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week.
Lavrov was set to travel to Cairo on Saturday for talks aimed at explaining Moscow’s position to his critical counterparts from the Arab League.
China Friday announced it too was sending an envoy to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France to explain its position on Syria.
The Kremlin said President Dmitry Medvedev had also sent a personal message about Syria to King Mohamed VI of Morocco — the sole Arab state on the 15-member Security Council.
Gatilov said Russia was still willing to work with the West and regional powers on finding an acceptable compromise.
“The goal is the same — to find a text that contains equal demands on both sides,” Gatilov said.
Russia’s firm stance comes amid Western fears of an even more aggressive tone from Moscow following Vladimir Putin’s crushing win in this month’s presidential elections.
Putin battled with the West throughout his 2000-2008 presidency and led the campaign in Moscow against the air assault on Libya while serving as prime minister under outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev.