Russia's split with West on Syria widens

13th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The standoff between Moscow and the West over Syria intensified Tuesday when Russia slammed as "immoral" Western accusations it was blocking UN action condemning the regime's deadly crackdown.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of bias and a refusal to admit that opposition forces were reverting to militant tactics and committing increasingly more serious crimes.

The charges come as Moscow stepped up its defence against "regime change" in allied Arab countries amid a sharp rise of domestic discontent with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.

"There are those who refuse to put pressure on the armed, extremist part of the opposition and are at the same time accusing us of blocking the UN Security Council's work. I would call this position immoral," Lavrov told reporters.

He was specifically responding to barbs fired at Russia by both France and Germany following the United Nation's release of an updated Syrian death toll of more than 5,000 people.

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud called the UN Security Council's silence over civilian deaths a "scandal" and accused those of blocking action of being "morally responsible" for them.

And German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the new toll showed the need for "countries in the Security Council which are still hesitating to change their mind."

Russia and China in October used a rare double veto to block a Western-backed resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Moscow then said the action was one-side and on Tuesday argued that "armed extremist groups" were becoming increasingly reckless as Western pressure on Assad grew.

"There is no doubt their goal is to instigate a humanitarian catastrophe and obtain the pretext for demanding foreign intervention in this conflict," Lavrov said in specific reference to the flashpoint city of Homs.

"Experience shows that sanctions never work except for the rarest of exceptions," Lavrov said on Tuesday.

He also called the waves of economic and other restrictions imposed on Assad by the European Union and Washington in the past six months "bad resolve".

Lavrov had on repeated previous occasions accused the West of trying to overthrow Assad after succeeding in Libya and other Arab world countries with Soviet-era ties to Moscow.

Many analysts tie Russia's rhetoric to domestic politics and the planned return to the Kremlin of Putin rather than to actual support for Assad.

Putin has already accused Washington of funding Russian opposition to him and instigating the street protests that followed December 4 elections that his party won with the alleged help of fraud.

"Russia's position is not specifically tied to events in Syria but rather to what is happening in domestic politics, particularly after the elections," said Alexander Shumilin of the USA and Canada Institute.

"The authorities -- and more specifically, Vladimir Putin -- are trying to flex their muscle and stand up to the West," said Shumilin. "If there was no conflict with Syria, they would come up with some other excuse."

But some said Russia may eventually decide that Assad's position in global politics had become untenable -- the same as it had done with Moamer Kadhafi in Libya before his ouster and eventual death.

"I do not think that they are going to support Assad until the end. After all, he is even isolated in the Arab world," said Russia in Global Affairs editor Fyodor Lukyanov.

"But Russia is going to tread a cautious retreat," Lukyanov said.

© 2011 AFP

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