As fighting intensifies around Damascus, Russia’s foreign minister threatens to block a UN resolution that threatens sanctions against Syria, if western allies do not stop resorting to “blackmail”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was being put under pressure to pass the resolution, dimming hopes that Moscow diplomats were trying to find some way to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad without breaking its ties with the country.
Mr Lavrov’s comments to a news conference came before Kofi Annan, UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, begins a two-day visit to Moscow which includes talks on Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin.
It’s not a question of our preferences, likings or dislikings. He will not go. Not because we are defending him, but because a very large part of the country’s population is behind him. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
The mandate for a UN observer force ends on 20 July, and the Russian foreign minister said the west was using this deadline as blackmail, trying to force through a new resolution which would permit the use of force for the first time.
Russia has created its own alternative draft resolution which would extend the observer mission’s mandate, and includes no sanctions against Syria.
“To our great regret, there are elements of blackmail,” he told a news conference. “We consider it to be an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous approach, since it is unacceptable to use monitors as bargaining chips.”
As diplomats debate how to resolve the conflict, Syrian activists reported some of the most severe fighting around Damascus since the crisis began 16 months ago. Plumes of black smoke to drift over the city’s skyline as Syrian troops and rebels clashed in and around the city.
Fawaz Zakri from the opposition Syrian National Council said that the President Assad’s troops bombed Damascus with heavy weaponry. Activists in the suburb of Al Midan also reported a severe humanitarian situation, with a lack of doctors to treat the wounded.
Throughout the 16-month Syrian conflict, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 17,000 people, Russia has repeatedly blocked UN resolutions calling for international military intervention.
The proposed UN resolution draft, put forward by Britain, threatens non-military sanctions against al-Assad’s government if it fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities within 10 days. This resolution ultimately includes the use of military force, but this is a possibility played down by US and European officials.
Although it provides arms to Syria and does not support sanctions or intervention, Russia says that it does not support Assad and backs Annan’s peace plan.
“It’s not a question of our preferences, likings or dislikings. He will not go. Not because we are defending him, but because a very large part of the country’s population is behind him,” Mr Lavrov said on Monday.