Amid high drama at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Russia and China have spiritedly opposed a European-Arab draft that seeks to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the first step towards the establishment of democracy in the troubled Arab nation.
Citing the principle of sovereignty and advocating a peaceful internal dialogue, Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said during an animated debate on Tuesday that there were alternative ways to end the bloodshed in Syria other than by the eviction of Mr. Assad by foreign powers through the U.N. route.
Questioning the legality of the proposed resolution, Mr. Churkin said the UNSC did not have the mandate to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. “The Council cannot prescribe ready recipes for the outcome of domestic political processes. It is not in the [U.N.] Charter”. Mr. Churkin warned that the U.N.'s intrusion into the internal affairs of a country would set a dangerous precedent. “Then you will start telling what king needs to resign and what Prime Minister needs to step down. This is not the business of the Security Council.”
Observers say the Russians are apprehensive that if validated, the principle of U.N. interventionism in internal conflicts can be used to target them if the domestic situation in Russia deteriorates for some reason.
Analysts say at the heart of the sovereignty-versus-intervention debate in the Security Council is the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm of the United Nations, which permits foreign involvement in the internal affairs of a country when it can be established that “mass atrocities” are possible. In Syria's case, Prime Minister of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani told the Security Council on Tuesday that the Syrian government was a “killing machine (that) continues effectively unabated”.
Backing the Russian position, China said the Security Council was overstepping its mandated boundaries in the case of Syria. “China...resolutely opposes pushing for forced regime change in Syria, as it violates the United Nations Charter and the basic norms guiding the practice of international relations,” Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Li Baodong said, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
Russia's insistence against any resolution, seemingly for a humanitarian cause but which could trigger a process of “regime change”, has been cemented by the Libyan experience. Stung by the happenings in Libya, where a pro-West government is now in place, Mr. Churkin insisted that as a matter of principle, his country rejected sanctions or external meddling as a means to solve internal conflicts. “We will not stand for any sanctions resolutions or using the council's toolbox so as to fuel conflict or possibly justify any foreign intervention in the future.”
Contrary to Russian expectations, the text of the draft is open to future use of sanctions or force against Syria. The Assad-regime, according to the draft introduced by Morocco, could be subjected to “further measures”, if it failed to comply to the main demands of the resolution — delegation of “full authority” by the President to his deputy, leading to the formation of an interim national unity government — within 15 days.
The Russians also questioned the Western assumption that President Assad alone was responsible for the growing violence in Syria. Speaking separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Yes, we condemn strongly the use of force by (Syrian) government forces against civilians. But we condemn in the same strong way the activities of the armed extremist groups who attack government positions.”
On the contrary, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mr. Assad a “dictator”, and urged “the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria” by backing the European-Arab draft.