The hardening position of the United States and its allies is driving ties with Russia to a new low, and raising fresh tensions in strife-torn Syria.
The gloves are off as U.S. President Barack Obama has launched an unvarnished verbal assault against Moscow for blocking a western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution for establishing "humanitarian corridors" in Syria.
Addressing U.S. and French journalists accompanying visiting French President Francois Hollande, last Tuesday, Mr. Obama said: "There is great unanimity among most of the Security Council on this resolution [to provide greater aid]. Russia is a holdout". The U.S. President bluntly asserted that John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, and others "have delivered a very direct message to the Russians that they cannot say they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when there are starving civilians. ... [I]t is not
just the Syrians that are responsible; the Russians, as well, if they are blocking this kind of resolution".
But the Russians, fully alive to the use of humanitarian intervention by the West for engineering "regime change" in Libya earlier, seemed hardly impressed by the presidential diatribe. In his spirited riposte, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov pointed out that any resolution at the UN must also take into account the threat posed by al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations in Syria. "It is necessary to deal both with the terrorist threat and the humanitarian disaster in a comprehensive manner," he observed.
On Friday, President Obama had warned that fresh pressure would be mounted on the government of Syrian President, Bashar Al Assad. Accompanied by Jordan's King Abdullah II, he stressed that "there are
going to be some immediate steps that we have to take to help the humanitarian assistance there (in Syria)".
The President's remarks coincided with a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that Saudi Arabia has offered to supply the Syrian opposition with anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, apparently to offset the air and heavy weapons advantage over the opposition that the government forces currently exercise. The WSJ write-up observed that Russian-made antitank guided missiles and Chinese man-portable air-defence systems have already been stored in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.
Syrian opposition commanders had struck a deal on the new armaments shipment during a meeting with agents from the United States and Saudi intelligence in Jordan on January 30, the daily reported.
Attempts to mount fresh military pressure on the Syrian government have coincided with a sterile on-going dialogue that has been going on in Geneva between the official representatives and the opposition.
This has caused Russia to pointedly accuse U.S. and France of attempting to derail talks in the Swiss city. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, blamed Paris and Washington on Friday of making a systematic attempt to provoke the Syrian government to "slam the door" at the Geneva-2 peace conference. He added that Moscow supported the Syrian government's approach to implement step-by-step, the broad principles anchored by the 2012 Geneva communiqué to achieve durable peace. Observers say that the opposition wants to first discuss the composition of a transitional government during the dialogue in the hope of using diplomacy to remove President Assad from power. Russia has stood firmly opposed to "regime change" in Syria through military and other means.
Keywords: Syria crisis, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Gennady Gatilov, Sergei Lavrov, Russia-Syria ties, U.N. Security Council resolution, Syria civil war, Bashar Assad, Syria war, Syria peace talks, Western-backed resolutions