Russia sent its foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to Damascus yesterday amidst worldwide outrage over its decision to veto the UN resolution which called for the step-down of President Bashar al-Assad. It said that it would seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis with Mr. Assad’s government, but did not elaborate on its plan. The UN resolution was denied primarily because Russia believed that it would force a regime change and result in a civil war.
According to Mr. Lavrov, the visit was “very productive” and Russia had managed to gain Mr. Assad’s assurance that “he is fully committed to an end to violence, no matter its source.” Despite this, the Interior Ministry purportedly released a statement saying that it would continue its operations “to hunt down terrorist groups will continue until security and order are re-established in all neighbourhoods of Homs and its environs”.
Ironically, Mr Lavrov’s delegation was met with thousands of cheering government supporters along the streets of Damascus as attacks on Homs continued and increased. According to opposition activists in the city, four blasts were fired approximately every five minutes. So far, it has been estimated that 40 people have died since the firing started after Mr. Lavrov’s visit. Russian-made tanks were spotted roaming the city. In the town of Zabadni, situated northwest of Damascus, tank bombardments were also reported.
Meanwhile, many Gulf Arab states have followed the lead of US and EU countries and said that they would be expelling Syrian ambassadors in their countries. A Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) statement said: “Members have decided to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria and ask at the same time for all the ambassadors of the Syrian regime to leave immediately.” The UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Span and Italy are among many countries that have already recalled their ambassadors. Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, on the other hand, has pledged to start a new initiative with countries who oppose the Syrian government. He called the vetoing of UN resolution by Russia and China a “fiasco”.
In addition, the US announced yesterday that it would not support giving weapons to the Syrian opposition. It will, withal, seek to organize a “contact group” which will facilitate communication between the US and the Syrian opposition. The US has also said that it will pressure Mr. Assad with tightened economic sanctions.
Earlier today, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd summoned the Syrian envoy to express his concerns over Syria’s worsening crisis and Mr. Asasd’s regime. A spokeswoman for Mr. Rudd told the press that he “underlined that the Assad regime had lost its legitimacy when it started deploying arms against its own people and that it was time for Assad to leave.” Thus far, Australia has employed measures to increase pressure on Mr. Assad’s government to stop the violence by tightening its sanctions against Syria. It also donated a total of A$6 million to Red Cross efforts in Syria.
Report: Australia summons Syrian envoy over bloodshed [Channel NewsAsia, 8 February 2012]
Report: Turkey plans new Syria initiative after U.N. “fiasco” [Chicago Tribune, 7 February 2012]
Report: Russia claims Assad promised ‘cessation’ of violence in Syria [Telegraph, 7 February 2012]
Report: Attacks in Syria resume after Russian peace foray [Reuters, 8 February 2012]
Report: U.S., allies weighs options in Syria [Los Angeles Times, 7 February 2012]