The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday issued a “presidential statement,” one step below a resolution, chiding the Syrian government for its violent repression of protests (but also condemning violence by the protesters, which is a little like complaining that Jack the Ripper’s victims tried to scratch him with their fingernails). The statement was hailed as a turning point by French foreign minister Alain Juppe, and defended as an important step forward by US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
Diplomacy is the art of the possible, and one understands Juppe’s and Rice’s emphasis on the achievement here. But the statement contained no sanctions. So it was toothless. Russia and China are running interference for the Baath regime of Bashar al-Asad, and there is no prospect of them allowing UNSC sanctions on Damascus. So not only does the statement not contain any practical steps, it is unlikely to be followed by any resolution more decisive or robust.
The USG Open Source Center translates remarks of Russian UN ambassador Vitaliy Churkin on the Syrian crisis:
‘UN envoy explains Russia’s viewpoint on Syria
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Summary…
Different approaches to the events in Syria have prevented the UN Security Council from adopting the revised resolution on Syria, Russia’s permanent representative at the UN Vitaliy Churkin told journalists after the latest consultations, as carried by official Russian state channel Rossiya 1 on 3 August.
“It is no secret that our Western colleagues believe that Damascus and the Syrian government are to blame for everything and the best the Security Council can do is to put maximum pressure on Syrian authorities or even intimidate them with further actions on the part of the Security Council. There are a number of other members of the Security Council, Russia among them, who see the situation as more complicated. This analysis of the situation makes us believe that that task of the Security Council is to maximally encourage all sides in Syria to hold a dialogue that would allow the country to find a way out of the current crisis,” he said.
(Description of Source: Moscow Rossiya 1 in Russian — Large state-owned network broadcasting to almost all of Russia (formerly Rossiya TV)) ‘
In other words, Churkin does not admit the right of Syrians to peaceably assemble for protests, perceives them as violent attackers of the Baath Party status quo, and urges that they negotiate with the government that has mown down some 2000 of them and rolled tanks against them. The old Soviet Union was a major patron of Syria, and the present Russian Federation appears to be interested in picking Syria back up as a client.
Still, the various positions on Syria in the Russian government are diverse, and some, at least, are taking a genuinely post-Soviet line, condemning the Syrian government’s violence in no uncertain terms.
The Open Source Center translated remarks of Mikhail Margelov, the special envoy for Africa of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which show a high level of ethical commitment and clear, analytical thinking about Syria:
‘ Russian envoy for Africa slams Syrian regime
Ekho Moskvy Radio
Wednesday, August 3, 2011…
Document Type: OSC Translated Text
Text of report by Gazprom-owned, editorially independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy on 3 August
(Presenter) The Russian president’s special envoy for Africa, Mikhail Margelov, is confident that the Syrian leadership has displayed utmost cruelty in its suppression of the opposition. Thus the incumbent Syrian regime has condemned itself to certain death.
(Margelov) Tank attacks against one’s compatriots and coreligionists, unacceptable at any time, look especially defiant during the Holy Month of Muslim fasting, Ramadan. In fact, the Syrian government preferred a war with its civil population to reforms long overdue. This is an obvious manifestation of the weakness of the regime.
With his massacres Syrian President Bashar al-Asad extremely complicated a transition to a political settlement of the situation as he caused justified bitterness against the regime and himself both within the country and beyond its borders.
The activities of the Syrian government are only exacerbating the situation and the hopes for a political dialogue are disappearing with every attack of government tanks and infantry. Thus the incumbent regime is putting itself in a position when a blood stamp appears on it, and in this day and age such regimes are doomed, if not tomorrow then over the foreseeable historical term.
(Description of Source: Moscow Ekho Moskvy Radio in Russian — influential station known for its news coverage and interviews of politicians; now owned by Gazprom but largely retains its independence) ‘
World action on the Syrian regime’s crimes depends very much on whether it is Churkin or Margelov who wins the argument inside Moscow.