Russia threatens to veto Syria aid draft

Russia says the U.N. draft resolution seeks to lay the ground for military action against Syria

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday threatened to veto a U.N. humanitarian draft resolution on Syria that Moscow sees as a bid to lay the groundwork for military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“The ideas that were shared with us by those initiating this process... are absolutely unacceptable and contain an ultimatum for the government, that if they don’t solve all this in two weeks then we automatically introduce sanctions,” Lavrov said in Moscow.

“Instead of engaging in everyday, meticulous work to resolve problems that block deliveries of humanitarian aid, they see a new resolution as some kind of simplistic solution,” he said.

Since receiving the draft resolution on Thursday, Moscow has been outspoken in its opposition to the draft. Lavrov previously described it as “detached from reality,” while U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed it as a “non-starter,” Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov added to Moscow’s argument: “Its whole purpose and aim is to create grounds for future military action against the Syrian government if some demands it includes are not met.”

“It is unacceptable to us in the form in which it is now being prepared, and we, of course, will not let it through,” said Gatilov, according to state-run news agency RIA.

Russia and China have shielded Syria on the U.N. Security Council during the country’s three-year-long civil war. The pair have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria’s government and threatening it with possible sanctions.

Russia has said it is not trying to prop up Assad, but that he must not be forced out by foreign powers and it opposes Western military intervention.

The United States threatened air strikes after a deadly gas attack in August, but that threat was averted when Assad pledged to give up his chemical weapons.

The draft aid text, obtained by Reuters, expresses an intent to impose sanctions on individuals and entities obstructing aid and if certain demands in the resolution are not met within 15 days of its adoption. It does not threaten military action for non-compliance with council demands and makes no reference to provisions of the U.N. charter covering the use of force.

Some Western diplomats have suggested Moscow is attempting to stall any Security Council action on the humanitarian situation in Syria until the Winter Olympics, being held in Sochi, Russia, finish on Feb. 23.

Russia’s U.N. mission had no immediate comment on the accusation.

“The Russians are playing for time. We would like to complete negotiations and put this to a vote soon,” said one senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is a text on the table, it is negotiable and were happy to negotiate.”

The draft resolution condemns rights abuses by Syrian authorities and armed groups, and demands that Syrian forces stop all aerial bombardment of cities and towns as well as the indiscriminate use of bombs, rockets and related weapons.

It also condemns “increased terrorist attacks,” and calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Syria.

When asked if Beijing would negotiate on a draft text to try and increase aid access, China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi told Reuters on Wednesday: “We’ll work with the other council members.”

“We’re all concerned about the humanitarian problem in Syria and the important things are to achieve unity of the council and also to work in ways that will actually facilitate the ongoing political process in Geneva,” he said, referring to fragile Syrian peace talks in Switzerland.

“Also we need to see what kind of a reaction from the council can actually be helpful on the ground in terms of
actually delivering humanitarian access,” Liu said.

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