China, Russia Block Security Council Action Against Syria

A United Nations resolution that urged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to resign met a double veto on Saturday.

Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations' undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, speaks with Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council, July 19, 2012
Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations’ undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, speaks with Russia’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council, July 19, 2012 (France ONU)

China and Russia on Saturday blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have called on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to cede power to a transitional government. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations accused Arab and Western powers of undermining a diplomatic solution by calling for regime change in the Middle Eastern country.

Ahead of the vote, Russia said the resolution wasn’t “hopeless” but needed to avoid “taking sides in a civil war.” Its deputy foreign minister warned last week that, “Pushing this resolution is a path to civil war.”

The Chinese representative insisted that “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria should be fully respected.” Imposing an international solution would only “further complicate the situation,” he said. He blamed other members for pushing the resolution although there clearly wasn’t a consensus.

Susan Rice, the American ambassador, said she was “disgusted” that a mere two members of the Security Council blocked international action while the other thirteen voted in favor. She accused China and Russia of propping up “desperate dictators” and said, “Any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands.”

This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad.

The Russians maintain strong trade relations with Syria, including billions worth of annual arms sales.

Germany’s permanent representative to the United Nations similarly lamented the Sino-Russian veto although his country abstained from supporting the intervention in Libya last year. He stressed that the resolution “did not contain an arms embargo nor a sanctions regime” despite Western wishes for such language. It was taken out to accomodate Chinese and Russian concerns.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, also pointed out that the resolution had been watered down to stop a veto. “There was nothing in this text to justify a veto. We removed every possible excuse.” He lambasted China and Russia for choosing to “support tyranny rather than the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The French, who, last year, played a key role in enacting a Security Council resolution that empowered Arab and Western countries to intervene in Libya’s civil war, have staunchly sided with the Sunni monarchies that suspended Syria from the Arab League in November and called on the United Nations to take more forceful action against Damascus last week.

Qatar has already voiced support for an armed intervention. Turkey, which maintained amicable ties with the Ba’athist regime before the uprising, said it had “lost confidence” in President Assad’s willingness to reform. The Turkish foreign minister last week said that his country was prepared “to do everything for the Syrian people” although he stopped short of endorsing calls for military action.

His French counterpart said recent killings in the western Syrian city of Homs, which has been a hotbed of the unrest, amounted to a “massacre” and proved that “Syrian authorities have jumped a new hurdle in savagery.”

In remarks that were clearly aimed at Moscow, Alain Juppé further suggested that any country that blocked international action would bear a “heavy responsibility in history.”

The Russians were not persuaded. They fear that a resolution will pave the way for foreign intervention as happened in Libya last year. The Russians weren’t pleased to see NATO take sides in what they considered to be an internal conflict.

If Assad falls, he would likely make way for an administration that is dominated by Arab Sunnis who might be tempted to align their country to the Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, which are generally favorable to American and Western interests. Russia would thus be without leverage in the Middle East.

Finally, the Kremlin could worry that if the Syrian uprising manages to overthrow Assad, it will embolden separatist movements in its outer provinces and former satellite states. Uprisings there could dampen Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hopes of establishing an Eurasian Union under Russian leadership before he has even had a chance to reunite the former Soviet Union.