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Syria Sparks 'Cold War Stalemate' Between Russia And The West

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would veto any UN Security Council resolution targeting Syrian President Assad’s regime, especially any military strikes. It is the latest sign of deep-seated Russian tensions with the West over Syria. An

British Foreign Minister Hague (left) and his Russian counterpart Lavrov last year (UK Foreign Office)
British Foreign Minister Hague (left) and his Russian counterpart Lavrov last year (UK Foreign Office)
Alexandra Geneste

UNITED NATIONS – After the Libyan teamwork, here comes the Syrian stalemate. The reason: Russia's yearlong opposition to any sanctions against its Syrian ally. A stance supported by China, India and South Africa.

Despite the 5,400 dead reported by the United Nations, the Security Council remains silent, held hostage by internal divisions. European diplomats are fed up after leading numerous failed attempts to save the credibility of the Security Council on the issue, including a draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime and threatening targeted measures that was rejected in October by vetoes from Russia and China.

"We're in a deadlock," admits one Western diplomat, angry at what he characterized as "Russia's unwavering refusal to consider any type of action." Another one of his colleagues calls it a "Cold War-era stalemate."

On December 15, Russia presented a draft resolution on Syria. Though Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN called it "uneven," it gave a glimpse of hope that Russia was open to beginning a dialogue.

A month later, the draft has been modified. Its third version, presented to the Security Council this week, is just "a compilation of amendments added by the different member states," says an official.

Russia's stance hasn't changed. They are determined to equally condemn violence from official forces and the opposition. "That's a red line Europeans aren't ready to cross. The Council's credibility is at stake," says another UN official.

The Putin factor

After two days of tense negotiations over the 10-page document, experts from the 15 member states left on Wednesday without an agreement. Russian officials made it clear the next step would come from Moscow.

That same morning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that his country was against any outside sanction or intervention in Syria, and that it was ready to use its veto power again.

Experts believe Russia's position is being driven by its upcoming presidential election and Vladimir Putin's expected return to the presidency.

"Russia's strong rhetoric is directly inspired by Vladimir Putin's style during his presidency," says Andrew Kuchins, the Russia and Eurasia program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Russians really feel they were cheated over Libya. For them, NATO went beyond its mandate and that set off their obsessive fear of a unipolar world lead by the US."

Thus, there is no mention of sanctions or even the "threat" of sanctions in the latest Russian version of the draft. European amendments were dismissed. There is no mention of the International Criminal Court either. The resolution even states explicitly: "nothing in this resolution should be interpreted as an authorization for any type of military intervention by any one."

"Their strategy is to throw a lifejacket to Damascus. The Russians want to make sure the Syrian ship won't sink completely," says Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. Russia has a strategic stake in maintaining stability in Syria, its No. 1 ally in the Middle East, with whom it has negotiated deals on investments, arms sales and naval installations in the port of Tartus." "Russians are truly nervous about the possibility of the fall of the Syrian regime," Hills says. "It is a regime on which they have bet so much."

Read more from Le Monde in French

photo - UK Foreign Office

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Aline Suárez del Real

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