Syria leans on Russia as Moscow lowers support
Syrian soldiers man a checkpoint in Homs on Jan 23. Syria signals the crackdown will continue and that the government will take necessary steps to stop chaos.Damascus’ longstanding ally Russia would never accept any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs, said Syrian Foreign Minister Waled Muallem in a press conference yesterday, signaling continued support from Russia. A day before his address, however, a top Kremlin aide said Moscow can do little more for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mikhail Margelov, a senior lawmaker and President Dmitry Medvedev’s special Africa envoy engaged in diplomacy over Syria, said Jan. 23 Russia’s diplomatic “arsenal” was now exhausted. Russia has resisted pressure to call for al-Assad’s resignation and, with China, blocked a Western-crafted U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned a crackdown that has killed thousands of Syrians. But “[Our] veto on the U.N. Security Council resolution was the last instrument allowing Bashar al-Assad to maintain the status quo in the international arena,” Margelov said as reported by the state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
The veto “was a serious signal to the president of Syria from Russia. This veto has exhausted our arsenal of such resources,” said Margelov, who is also the chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s Upper House of Parliament. Al-Assad “should read this position unequivocally: reforms, an end to violence, free elections. This is what the Syrian leadership should do immediately, today,” he said. Contrary to Margelov’s statements, Muallem said yesterday in a press conference in Damascus, “No one can doubt the strength of the Russian-Syrian relationship,” based on their history and the interests of both people. “Russia will never accept foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs. That is the red line.”
New constitutional referendum soon
Muallem also said Syria will no longer accept Arab League solutions to its 10-month crisis, whether it takes its proposals to the United Nations “or to the moon.” Muallem said the Arab League knew in advance Syria would never accept its call Jan. 22 for al-Assad to step down and make way for a unity government to halt the bloodshed of a 10-month anti-government uprising. “Definitely the solution in Syria is not the solution proposed by the Arab League, which we have rejected,” Reuters quoted Muallem as saying. “They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis.” He stated it was clear some Arab countries have joined the conspiracy against Syria, a clear reference to the Gulf countries.
Muallem also said Syria would hold a referendum on a new constitution soon, as part of reforms promised by al-Assad. “The new Syrian constitution will be put to a referendum within a week or more.”
The foreign minister also signaled the crackdown will continue, saying the government will take any steps necessary to defend against chaos, the Associated Press reported. “It is the duty of the Syrian government to take what it sees as necessary measures to deal with those armed groups that spread chaos,” Muallem said.